A New Human Rights Council — Real Change or More of the Same?

by Duncan Hollis

That’s going to be the question facing the new U.N. Human Rights Council when it convenes for the first time June 19 in Geneva, Switzerland. Yesterday, the U.N. General Assembly elected the first 47 members of the newly-created Council. It will replace the much-maligned Human Rights Commission, which achieved notoriety for letting the wolves guard the proverbial hen house (i.e., some Commission members, such as Sudan, Cuba, Libya, and Zimbabwe, were better known for violating human rights obligations than for protecting and advancing the human rights cause).

In some ways, yesterday’s election will provide additional fodder for those (Hi Julian!) who want to criticize the new body as “more of the same.” In establishing the Council, U.N. General Assembly Resolution 60/251 provides that “when electing members of the Council, Member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto.” Nevertheless, it appears, the inaugural Council will continue the Commission’s precedent of having member states who have questionable, if not poor, human rights records. Members elected yesterday include Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia (the United States did not run for election, thus avoiding a possible debate about its human rights record in light of recent counter-terrorism activities). Of these six states, it is worth noting that five were singled out for mention in the introduction to this past year’s State Department Report on Human Rights. (another Council Member—Ecuador—was also mentioned for unseating a democratically elected president).

But for those looking to be optimistic, there was some good news. Keep reading after the jump to learn more.


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