The United States and the Human Rights Council

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.

H. Cartier-Bresson · Séville, 1933. © Cartier-Bresson & Magnum
H. Cartier-Bresson · Séville, 1933. © Cartier-Bresson & Magnum

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.[1]

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.[1]

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.

Related Posts:
· U.S. faces criticism from HR abusers at Universal Periodic Review
· The Spanish Law of Universal Jurisdiction, now in Brackets?


[1] Véronique Gaymard, RFI – Chronique des droits de l’homme, Paris 3 oct. 2009

14 thoughts on “The United States and the Human Rights Council

  1. It’s not true that the Bush Administration shurned joining the Human Rights Council since its inception. The US was aware that they were not in a position to get the two thirds majority of the UN to get onto the Council because of its sordid human rights record. The new administration could get the two thirds majority in the General Assembly now because of the sanitised image of the US under President Obama.

  2. I think that Mr. Obama is sending a very important and hopeful message with this action, we in Colombia hope very much for a USA policy that can lead for a radical change in the Colombian goverment, where at the moment almost only drugtraffickers and realted are in the highst government positions. We hope that the USA can help us become a truly democratic state and end this governement of mafia and corruption.

  3. U.S. Presence in the Council is also essential for development issues at the forefront of human rights. A prime example is the Council’s recent review of the relationship between climate change and human rights. As the Council continues to struggle with other emerging issues, both the U.S. and human rights movement would benefit from an active U.S. role.

  4. The use of the word human rights makes it sound so noble. The problem is the United Nations is just another cog in the gear leading us into becoming a full fledged socialist country. As many Americans get upset with the socialization of our country, who wants to be that Obama will not suspend civil liberties in order to “keep the peace.”

  5. Hopefully Obama will use this platform to truly push a human rights agenda for ALL people, not to just pander to the Islamo-centrist hair club for Allah. The treatment the scum at Gitmo get would be a welcome improvement for millions in China, Africa, Russia, and any old place run by the Islamonuts.

  6. This is a good move for the USA. We had NO moral authority to even talk about human rights while we were torturing prisoners and invading countries under false pretenses. As far as I am concerned this is a breath of fresh air after 8 years of Bush dictatorship.

    Mike Spotston

  7. While the organization is far from perfect, this is a good step in the right direction for promoting the international human rights agenda, reshaping the council and promoting American global leadership. Despite all the cries about the decline of American hegemony, the U.S. is still by far the most powerful country in the United Nations. Its membership on the Human Rights Council can better shape the council towards its original intent.
    Critics of the HRC have many legitimate complaints. But everyone agrees that the council needs to focus more of its original intention of protecting victims of human rights abuses. The best way to influence an organization and achieve this goal is by participating from within rather than critiquing from outside.
    Robert Boghossian

  8. Is this the Human Rights Organization that had Libya or Iran or something as the leader. Personally see no harm in joining but also see no good.

  9. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has no commonality whatsoever with the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, North Korea, ETA, the BNP in Britain or any other dissident groups.

    The problem that the international community has with Israel is unique. There is no other country in the world that is armed by the US to suppress an indigenous population of millions who have at least an equal right to the land. Why America allows its legislature to be controlled by the pro-Israel lobby is inexplicable to non-Americans.

  10. I would rather be careful with uninformed reactions to the US approach to UN Human Rights Council membership, because their decision could also be based on the factual incompetence of the Human Rights Council to clear the mess in their own backyard. As it is at the moment, the UN has more lobbyists than any other organization in the EU, and for the most, their decisions are not based on the right of the people to access justice, but rather on the simple talks and negotiations of “professional” lobbyists who participate in UN campaigns favoring or disfavoring particular issues.

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