Should the U.S. have run for the Human Rights Council?
The U.S. announced last week that it again would not seek election to the Council. Despite the body’s serious flaws, UN Watch had urged the U.S. to run, believing that it could better fight for improvements from the inside. Although the U.S. can be—and has been—an active non-member, membership would allow it to do more. (Only members can bring resolutions to the floor for action, call for votes, speak and vote when the Council is taking decisions, and count among the 16 signatures required for a special session, for example.)
The argument that U.S. participation would grant the Council undeserved legitimacy has some merit, but is inconsistent with U.S. participation in the General Assembly and similar bodies, including its long-time membership on the Commission on Human Rights. The decision to stay off does give voice to many Americans’ objections to the Council’s failings, but this could have been accomplished in other ways while participating as a member.
Nevertheless, it is important not to exaggerate the potential accomplishments of U.S. membership, as some have done. The U.S.’s presence as one of the 7 WEOG members of the first Council would not have prevented the abuses of the past nine months, nor would U.S. election in May have guaranteed improvements in the coming year. While the rotation of 14 Council seats—now held by Algeria, Morocco, South Africa, Tunisia, Bahrain, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, the Czech Republic, Poland, Argentina, Ecuador, Finland, and the Netherlands—could change the various political groups’ representation, the regional group representation will stay the same. And the May election could very well bring the re-election of many of the same countries, which are permitted to seek a second term.