By: Mark Leon Goldberg on March 30, 2011 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?