How the U.S. and Other Democratic States Can Fix the Human Rights Council

by Peggy McGuinness

Paula Schriefer of Freedom House makes a compelling argument about the central failings of the UN Human Rights Council and how they can be overcome in this piece over at Foreign Policy.  It is not, as many argue, the mere presence of bad actors on the Council or the ability of those states and their friends to run the place and deflect attention from their appalling human rights records that weakens the Council.  The core — and fixable — problem is the failure of the bloc of democratic states to stop this bad behavior in its tracks:

The council’s primary weakness is not that the world’s most repressive societies manage to get themselves elected and then run roughshod over the council’s other members, but rather that the majority of the world’s democracies let them do it. There are more democracies than dictatorships in the world today; yet curiously, it is the despots who focus their diplomatic energies on the council.


Despite the fact that democracies outnumber nondemocracies on the council by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1, only a handful of the council’s 47 members can be counted upon to vote consistently in accordance with human rights priorities. It will take enormous diplomatic effort to turn this around.

Schriefer argues that it will take a concerted effort by the U.S. to move the Council in the right direction, but it is well within the capacity of the U.S. to do so:

The Obama administration has already achieved one laudable success in helping to secure, in June at the last council session, passage of a resolution to continue examination of Sudan. The resolution passed, albeit just barely, because of significant behind-the-scenes U.S. lobbying that helped break down the council’s debilitating tradition of bloc voting by securing the yes votes (or in some cases the abstentions) of important African and Latin American democracies. Efforts like these require U.S. diplomats to travel to key capital cities and engage in genuine discussions with their counterparts, listening to concerns and making acceptable compromises or trade-offs.

Although the Sudan resolution marked a rare and unexpected success, it will require even greater effort to bring other council members around on fundamental human rights issues, such as protecting freedom of expression or censuring the world’s most egregious rights abusers, issues on which the council has so far failed miserably. In the coming year, the United States will have its work cut out for it in ensuring the continued mandates of special rapporteurs for countries like Somalia and Burma and in defeating the annual resolutions that attempt to criminalize speech critical of religions or religious practices.

I largely agree with her immediate “to do” list for the Obama administration:

(1) Get the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor confirmed and in place; (2) appoint an ambassador to the Council, rather than have the Geneva representative (a slot that is also unfilled right now) cover the Council as part of a larger UN portfolio; (3) staff up both positions in Washington and Geneva so that the U.S. can do the diplomatic leg-work necessary to move the Council toward more effective oversight.

Update:  The Freedom House “The Human Rights Council Report Card: 2007-2009” can be accessed here.

3 Responses

  1. <i><b>”How the U.S. Can Fix the Human Rights Council”</i></b>

    What we saw in Iraq war a huge violations by US some acts levelled to war crimes, should be the Democratic States believe or accepted a human right brokers?

    Btw, where are human rights from IDF human harvesting saga specially after Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum arrested and some links may goes back to what he done in US?
    Now we got this today :

    Swedish journalist threatened because his report about IDF Israeli organ harvesting
    Swedish journalist threatened because his report about IDF Israeli organ harvesting, he got threaten massage on his mobile emails made his wife very concerned about her family specially 8 years daughter.
    <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>Solidarity campaign</a> with the Swedish journalist threatened
    More than one thousand Palestinian martyrs, organ-theft victims
    ALGIERS- Swedish journalist Donald Bostrom, who disclosed the smuggling of organs harvested from the bodies of Palestinian martyrs by the Israeli army, affirmed Wednesday that the number of Palestinian martyrs who had their organ stolen by Israeli army exceeds 1000. Speaking at a conference staged by the National Federation of Algerian Journalists (FJA), at the Press House of Kouba (Algiers), Swedish journalist said the theft of Palestinian martyrs’ organs “began in 1960 and increased after the Intifada.” Journalist Donald Bostrom who published on August 17, 2009 a story entitled “they steal our children’s organs,” in Aftonbladet newspaper, said organ theft doesn’t concern Palestinian martyrs only, but also other foreign people killed in Palestine.

    Wonder where is the international media from this story is it as same as Mohammad cartons when all talking and calling Islam/ Muslims are terrorists , were is those who believes in freedom of speech and all of that?

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