The UN’s supreme human rights body has selected serial human rights violators, including Russia and China, from the commission, once again questioning whether this is in fact an important platform for dealing with the plight of millions – or an anachronism.
The 47-member UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), based in Geneva, does two main things: it adopts non-binding resolutions on human rights issues around the world and oversees the work of experts investigating violations in specific countries. Her supporters, those in the United States who tend to lean to the left, say this is a place where nations can deal with issues that don̵
Opponents took over the debate this week as China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan and Uzbekistan won enough votes to serve on the UN Human Rights Council for a three-year term (although China received fewer votes than in previous years). However, other despotic regimes that want a place, such as Saudi Arabia, have not received a nod.
The result prompted former Trump administration ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, to label the panel on Twitter as a “total farce that doesn’t deserve its name,” apparently defending America’s exit from the body of its watch in 2018.
Some experts say her views are not only biased. “The world’s Nicki Haley makes sense,” said Richard Gowan, who heads the United Nations Advocacy for the International Crisis Group (ICG).
After all, China has forced some 2 million Uighur Muslims into indoctrination camps, and for years Russia has repressed political dissent with excessive force while promoting “family values,” a code for anti-LGBTQ policies. Moreover, the council has consistently adopted resolution after resolution condemning Israel, an ally of the United States, for violence against Palestinians, while ignoring abuses perpetrated by groups such as Hamas. In fact, the UNHRC singled out Israel in its first year, failing to formally address any other country for human rights abuses.
Given all this, it is fair to look at the Council and think that this is a problematic forum in which the United States must stay away. But experts say there are several problems with this view, namely that the United States is losing any influence in this forum to push itself against Russia and China from the world – and Israel is left without a strong supporter in the Council.
“The US presence and commitment can make the council’s work better,” said David Bosco, an associate professor and UN expert at Indiana University in Bloomington. “Russia and China often work together in the council to develop a vision of human rights that is more conducive to national sovereignty.” In other words, they are essentially advocating for a world without responsibility: If no nation criticizes what they are doing, they will not criticize what others are doing.
Simply put, this approach will almost certainly doom millions of the world’s most vulnerable people to an even worse future.
The UN Human Rights Council was not a great forum. It’s much better now.
In 2006, the UNHRC replaced the discredited Human Rights Commission, which at one time chaired Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya. The change was declared a much-needed revision, as the commission was mired in geopolitical rivalry instead of focusing on current human rights issues.
One of the few countries skeptical of the reform council was the United States, and the George W. Bush administration decided not to look for a seat that would win. “I believe quite strongly that our leverage in terms of presenting the new council is greater because the United States is not working and not sending a ‘this is not the usual’ signal this year than if we had to run,” John Bolton said. then the US ambassador to the UN, told the New York Times.
The lack of American participation has made it difficult for European countries and Canada, which are more human rights-oriented than most others, to repel nations that have continued to abuse their own people. This has allowed countries that often violate human rights not only to continue to do so, but also to block resolutions that could help millions in other countries.
“The council was pretty bad before Obama,” said Mark Limon, a UNHRC diplomat from 2006 to 2012 and now executive director of Universal Rights Group in Geneva.
One of President Barack Obama’s first foreign policy moves was to run for office. His administration says the United States can have more influence on human rights on the commission than outside it. Experts said this was the right call: With US membership, resolutions that had previously had problems with adoption – such as some supporting LGBTQ rights around the world – have been dealt with.
The board was by no means perfect, but it actually functioned much more as intended. “The United States has really turned things around,” Limon said. “It really changed the council for the better.”
Initially, the Trump administration was not hostile to the UN on human rights, but sought two major reforms: First, it wanted point 7 – which required the body to focus on the human rights situation in Israel during each of the three annual meetings. – to be struck. After all, this is the only item on the agenda that is specific to each country. Secondly, he wanted countries that abused human rights to be blocked from joining the council.
Trump’s team has never received any of their wishes, although it is working behind the scenes to accept its reforms. This failure, mixed with UNHRC skeptic Bolton, who became a national security adviser in April 2018, prompted Haley to announce America’s withdrawal. “The council is no longer worthy of its name,” Haley said at the time. “Such advice actually harms the cause of human rights.”
To the surprise of the experts, however, the UNHRC actually received Better without the United States, although this had less to do with the absence of America and more to do with the work of other countries, namely European countries.
“Many Western countries have stepped up,” Limon told me, especially when emphasizing human rights in war-torn countries like Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Among them, they were a huge influence and did a great job.” This year, members even asked senior UN human rights officials to address the brutality of America’s police following the assassination of George Floyd.
Analysts now say the UNHRC is becoming more human-friendly each cycle. This time it is no different, although Russia and China have won seats. The 47-member organization will “be the best UNHRC we have ever had,” Limon added, because there are more countries than ever that really care about promoting human rights.
Apparently, there has also been a change in attitudes, as both China and Russia have received lower-than-usual common votes among those allowed countries. Saudi Arabia, a country with huge influence in the Middle East and around the world, has failed to do so, which could mean that countries – who vote by secret ballot – are more cautious than the fact that council members should actually have good results in the field of human rights, so as not to risk not receiving an opinion on these issues.
Then the advice is still problematic, but this is not the hell it once was. In fact, it is an institution ripe for re-entry into America.
The United States would be better served on the UN Human Rights Council than outside it
Experts have described in detail two main reasons why the White House should consider joining the global body.
First, as mentioned above, it allows the United States to help define the human rights agenda, instead of ceding that control to more repressive regimes. “The United States can work with other council members to get support for resolutions, to appoint experts, and to oppose those they don’t like,” said Bosco, a UN expert at Indiana University.
In addition, a presence in the UNHRC means that the United States will have more legitimacy as a state that cares about human rights than not. This could give him a bigger so-called. “Soft power” not only in the UN, but also around the world. According to Govan of the ICG, China is seeking to enter the void left by the United States. “Chinese diplomats are much more active in human rights in Geneva today than they were a few years ago,” he told me.
Second, Israel no longer has a great advocate on the council. Israel is not a member, but the United States has usually acted as its plenipotentiary and supported Jerusalem when point 7 appears. Now UN human rights member states can understand the history of human rights in Israel without a member willing and willing to provide another account.
Taken together, it makes more sense for the United States to be on the corrupt council than outside it. Otherwise he loses more than he gains.
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