Some good news for those of us who believe that American engagement at international institutions is key to making those institutions better:

The Obama administration announced on Wednesday that it will seek a new term on the United Nations Human Rights Council despite concerns that the panel remains a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment and a forum for repressive nations to deflect attention from abuses they may have committed.

The State Department said the U.S. intends to run in 2012 for another three-year term on the oft-criticized council. Officials said the U.S. believes its presence on the panel for the past two years has helped steer it in the right direction and that it can continue to do so.

The department said that the U.S. has helped mobilize the council to take on crises in countries such as Iran, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan and Libya — which was a member until earlier this month, when it was suspended over its violent crackdown on anti-government protesters. The officials said U.S. membership had also been key to the council taking on issues that include women’s rights, discrimination based on sexual orientation and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

The State Department has been circulating this fact sheet about American accomplishments at the Council:

This September will mark the two-year anniversary of U.S. membership on
the United Nations Human Rights Council.  U.S. engagement at the Council
has led to a number of new mechanisms to spotlight and address serious
human rights concerns and focused international attention to some of the
world’s most egregious human rights abusers.  Much work remains before
the Council can fully realize its mandate as the international
community’s focal point for the protection and promotion of human
rights.  The United States will continue to work hard to diminish the
Council’s biased disproportionate focus on Israel. The United States
maintains a vocal, principled stand against this focus, and will
continue its robust efforts to end it.

Key accomplishments over the past two years include:

DEEPENING ENGAGEMENT IN COUNTRY SITUATIONS

Iran:  The Council took bold, assertive action to highlight Iran’s
deteriorating human rights situation by establishing a Special
Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran.  The rapporteur will
investigate and report on abuses in Iran and call out the failure of the
Iranian government to meet its human rights obligations.

Cote d’Ivoire:  U.S. leadership led to a Special Session on the
situation in Cote d’Ivoire, sending Laurent Gbagbo a clear message that
the world is watching what he does and that atrocities and human rights
violations would not go unnoticed.  At its most recent session, the
Council established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate these abuses
and amplified the international community’s unequivocal message that
President Ouattara must be allowed to serve as the elected head of
state.

Libya:  The United States played a pivotal role in convening the
Council’s Special Session in February 2011 during which the Council
condemned the recent human rights violations and other acts of violence
committed by the Government of Libya, created an independent Commission
of Inquiry to investigate those violations, and recommended to the UN
General Assembly that it suspend Libya’s membership rights on the
Council.  The UN General Assembly acted on that recommendation several
days later.

Kyrgyzstan:  The United States worked with Kyrgyzstan to draft and
galvanize support for the first-ever resolution to address human rights
violations there in the wake of the killings and abuses that took place
in June 2010.  It called for a credible investigation by the Government
and international assistance for victims and requested the High
Commissioner for Human Rights to provide follow-up reporting.  The
resolution paved the way for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate
these events.

Guinea:  The United States led the Council to adopt several resolutions
on Guinea.  The Council condemned the September 2009 violence, welcomed
the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ decision to open a country
office, and requested technical assistance from the international
community for the transition to democracy, which produced concrete
results on the ground.

Tunisia:  The United States worked with the EU and the interim
government of Tunisia to adopt a resolution that welcomed the process of
political transition that has started in Tunisia, invited the UN to
provide technical assistance to the transitional process in Tunisia, and
encouraged the government of Tunisia to implement recommendations of the
High Commissioner from its report on its mission earlier this year.

Burma:  The United States has worked to ensure the continuation of the
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma.  The
Special Rapporteur plays a critical role in reporting on the ongoing
human rights abuses in Burma, including calling for a commission of
inquiry into the situation.

North Korea:  The United States has worked to ensure the continuation of
the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea.
While the government of North Korea strongly opposes this mandate, the
number of votes in favor of the resolution increased this year,
demonstrating the level of international concern with the situation
there.

Sudan:  The United States led efforts to renew the mandate of the
Independent Expert tasked with monitoring human rights throughout Sudan,
including Darfur, over the Sudanese government’s strong opposition.

INITIATING CONCRETE ACTION TO DRIVE HUMAN RIGHTS PRIORITIES

Protecting Freedom of Assembly and Association:  The U.S. government
co-sponsored a resolution to  create the first-ever Special Rapporteur
to protect Freedom of Assembly and Association, to monitor crackdowns on
civil society groups and advance protection of  the right to free
assembly and association through its vigilant exposure of state conduct.

Combating Discrimination Against Women:  The United States championed
the establishment of a Working Group of Independent Experts to prevent
Discrimination Against Women; the five independent experts will address
discrimination against women in law and practice.  One of the experts is
the first Israeli citizen to be appointed by the Human Rights Council
President to a special mechanism.

A Strong Statement on LGBT Rights:  The United States led a group of 85
countries to sign a statement entitled “Ending Acts of Violence and
Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender
Identity.”  It represents a landmark moment in UN efforts to highlight
human rights abuses faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
people around the world.

DEFENDING CORE PRINCIPLES

Protecting Freedom of Expression in the Context of Religious
Intolerance:  The United States was instrumental in galvanizing support
for a consensus resolution that marks a sea change in the global
dialogue on countering offensive and hateful speech based upon religion
or belief.  The “Combating Discrimination and Violence” resolution
underscores the vital importance of protecting freedom of expression and
ends the divisive debate over the highly problematic concept of
“defamation of religions.”

I would also add “Defending Israel” to the list of accomplishments.  Some of the harshest critics of the Human Rights Council here in the United States are members of Congress for whom Israel is a singularly important issue, often to the exclusion of other American foreign policy priorities.  These members of Congress would have the United States leave the council because it sometimes gangs up on Israel.  The thing is,  without the United States as a member the council will still exist.  Without the United States, who’s left to defend Israel?

Get occasional updates from UN Dispatch

* indicates required

Want Our Social Media List?