Defending engagement with the UN Human Rights Council

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the United Nations this morning. The committee chair, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has left little doubt that one of her top priorities will be curtailing American support for and engagement with the UN Human Rights Council. In an attempt to blunt the GOP attack, a group of ...

By , a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the United Nations this morning. The committee chair, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has left little doubt that one of her top priorities will be curtailing American support for and engagement with the UN Human Rights Council.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the United Nations this morning. The committee chair, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has left little doubt that one of her top priorities will be curtailing American support for and engagement with the UN Human Rights Council.

In an attempt to blunt the GOP attack, a group of leading human rights organizations circulated a letter to the committee arguing that for all the HRC’s defects, American engagement has made a difference. A key passage: 

We recognize that the pursuit of principled goals at the Human Rights Council or anywhere in the UN system can be frustrating. But the HRC can play a leading role within the UN system in promoting and protecting human rights. Over the years, abusive countries such as Libya, Cuba, Sri Lanka, and China have worked hard to try to silence–or dominate–the HRC because they know that it has the potential to delegitimize their conduct. If it is important to them to make this effort, it should be important to the United States and to all countries committed to promoting human rights to counter it. To disengage from the fight–or from any international body where the fight is being waged–would be to cede important ground to rights violators. Despite its significant flaws, the HRC and the human rights experts it has appointed are making a real difference in the lives of those facing human rights abuses across the globe. Victims of rights violations and human rights defenders need the United States to continue the push for expanding that impact, not to walk away.

Supporters of human rights will not win every battle at the United Nations. But as the United States has helped to show in the last two years, important battles can be won when friends of human rights band together, and work with patience and determination to achieve their goals. We hope to build on this progress with your support.

The hearing is ongoing now; we’ll see whether these arguments carry any weight with the committee members.

Update: Turtle Bay has a recap of the hearing here. Reuters story is here, featuring this Dana Rohrbacher quote: "the U.N. should be one of our prime targets for reducing expenditures in order to bring down this deficit in the next few years." It sounds like a tough environment in which to make the case for the Human Rights Council.

David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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