Department of state official defends U.S. participation in un human rights council.

Author:Crook, John R.
Position:International Organizations

The UN Human Rights Council has been criticized by some observers, including at Congressional hearings in January 2011. (1) Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, takes a particularly harsh view of the Council. As explained on her Web site, she

has been an outspoken critic of the UN Human Rights Council, a body whose members include human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia, and has authored legislative initiatives to prevent U.S. funds from being used to support a Council that would rather denounce Israel, a democracy, than defend human rights. (2) In a speech at the Brookings Institution in early February 2011, Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer explained the Department of State's view of the Council and defended the U.S. role as a member. An excerpt follows:

[G]lobal respect for universal values is an enduring American interest, and one we have long championed at the United Nations. An important setting for these efforts is the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This Administration, reversing the policy of the previous one, chose to run for--and won--a seat on the HRC in 2009. And since joining, we've become the most active delegation on the Council, bolstering our engagement with a dedicated human rights ambassador in Geneva and a strengthened team working on the HRC within the State Department. But our expanded engagement does not mean we have dived in with our eyes closed. Are we frustrated with the Council's ongoing substantive shortcomings? Deeply. Could the HRC do more to address pressing human rights issues? Far more. And does it continue an unfair and imbalanced focus on Israel? It does. Will the session in March be tough? It will. But these criticisms, like many we face, tell only part of the story. They fail to recognize how the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies have improved as a result of U.S. engagement, and how these bodies do advance U.S. foreign policy goals. And they ignore the reality that without U.S. engagement, these bodies likely would have been dominated even more by our adversaries. Let's look a little deeper at the Human Rights Council, and what took place prior to the U.S. joining the Council. Five special sessions on Israel in three years. A decidedly mixed set of special rapporteurs, including Richard Falk. Flawed mandates, including the Goldstone report on Gaza. Far too many unbalanced resolutions singling out...

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