The hopes quickly went on smoke at the end of the 12th session marking the official attendance of the United States to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
When the United States announced their candidacy to the Human Rights Council earlier this year, many had welcomed the decision with the hope that some cases completely blocked under the government of George W. Bush could finally move forward, including those involving Israel, Gaza and the occupied Palestinian Territories. But hope quickly went up in smoke at the end of the twelfth session, which marked the United States official entry to the HR Council. The US administration had sent specially from Washington Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. He defines America’s standing in the council:
We see our role as broadly engaged in a range of issues. Our intention is to address all issues and suggest ways to advance the Council over its program to help the greatest number. We are in new relationships, new alliances. For example, we worked with Egypt on a resolution on freedom of expression that resolves disputes that we had. The Council needs this type of exchange. Our intention is to apply universal principles to everyone, including ourselves. We know that the US must lead by example in its own affairs and participate actively in the Council. Our situation of human rights will be reviewed next year with the procedure of Universal Periodic Review, and we encourage other countries to do likewise.
The intentions were initially positive but Americans have widely criticized the Goldstone report on Gaza and US pressure has resulted to postpone the vote on the resolution at the next session in March 2010. The recommendation of the Goldstone mission to seize the International Criminal Court if no independent investigation is conducted within six months scared off Israel.
In turn, the US, who refused to join the ICC, might be revising its position:
We are currently reviewing our policy regarding the ICC and the ratification of certain conventions, like the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which could pose a challenge for the USA. It’s a fresh start. And we will consider all treaties this way. I think this will be a long process. No doubt, priority will be done to the elimination of discrimination against women. We will create a new dynamic.
But these are all political considerations that have taken hold in the Human Rights Council, although many NGOs have welcomed the opening created by the joint resolution between the US and Egypt on freedom of expression. Other resolutions which have been voted are at least as important as those on the Aboriginal peoples, the right to truth, the effects of toxic chemicals on human rights or access to care.
On the merits, the important thing for Fred Abrahams, senior researcher for HRW on the Middle East, is the implicit message by the reaction of the USA, Israel and the European Union – the latter very discreet on the Goldstone report:
If Europe and the US want to promote justice, for example in Africa, they must apply equally the concept of justice to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Otherwise, there will always be a double standard.
The Human Rights Council is criticised for its too political positions at the expense of serious violations of human rights situations. The United States have disappointed by their position on the report on Gaza. They will be very expected for the next March session of the Human Rights Council.
 Véronique Gaymard, RFI – Chronique des droits de l’homme, Paris 3 oct. 2009