The Human Rights Council and the rest of us

The Human Rights Council and the rest of us

On July 28, 2010, we posted a webpoll asking our readers if the United States should withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The question was sparked by a story we were running that week (dated July 30). Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) had organized a bipartisan letter to President Obama, signed by 33 members of the House, urging just that.

The United States had joined the council – many of whose members, like China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia, are world-class human-rights violators – in 2009. Libya, until it was recently suspended – what took the United Nations so long? – was one notorious member. The council, and its predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, racked up a voluminous and nasty anti-Israel record.

Felice Gaer, a Paramus resident who is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, argued in that story that “the purpose of running for the council was for the purpose of changing it. You don’t change it by not being there. When the U.S. was not a member of the council, the U.S. point of view was irrelevant.”

It is not irrelevant now. While still problematic – Syria, a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism, is likely to be elected to the council – it has made, if not great strides, more than small steps for humankind.

As noted in a statement released Wednesday by State Department spokesman Mark Toner, the council had “highlighted the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran by establishing a new Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in that country, the first country-specific mandate created by the Council since it came into being. The Council also charted a new course for global efforts to condemn intolerance, discrimination, and violence based on religion or belief while protecting and promoting freedom of expression. The Council established a Commission of Inquiry to examine serious abuses and violations of human rights in Cote d’Ivoire, and extended the Council’s scrutiny of the ongoing serious human rights abuses in Burma. And in conjunction with the session, the United States led a ground-breaking effort to get 85 UN member-states to join a statement supporting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Taken collectively,” according to the statement, “the actions taken by the 16th Human Rights Council represent a significant positive change in the Council’s trajectory.”

The statement also said that “the United States remains determined to take all possible steps to end the Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel. The United States maintains a vocal, principled stand against this focus, and will continue its robust efforts to end it.” That we’d like to see.

Sixty percent of readers who responded to last year’s poll voted against the proposed U.S. withdrawal from the council. There’s another chance to weigh in on the issue at

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