U.S. Reps. Snub Navi Pillay

The U.N. General Assembly today formally extended Navi Pillay‘s term as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for another two years. But not before House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) fired off an angry letter calling on the Obama administration to "publicly and strongly oppose" Pillay’s extension, saying she ...

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.

The U.N. General Assembly today formally extended Navi Pillay's term as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for another two years.

But not before House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) fired off an angry letter calling on the Obama administration to "publicly and strongly oppose" Pillay's extension, saying she has been too soft on China, Syria, and other rights violators and has "repeatedly demonstrated bias against the State of Israel."

The request, contained in a letter to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, came hours before the U.N. General Assembly decided to approve a recent recommendation by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to keep Pillay on the job for another two years.

The U.N. General Assembly today formally extended Navi Pillay‘s term as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights for another two years.

But not before House Foreign Affairs Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) fired off an angry letter calling on the Obama administration to "publicly and strongly oppose" Pillay’s extension, saying she has been too soft on China, Syria, and other rights violators and has "repeatedly demonstrated bias against the State of Israel."

The request, contained in a letter to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, came hours before the U.N. General Assembly decided to approve a recent recommendation by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to keep Pillay on the job for another two years.

The broadside by Pillay’s congressional critics highlighted the displeasure with she’s viewed by key backers of Israel in Washington.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, withheld any public statement on Pillay’s extension. U.S. officials privately expressed disappointment with her handling of Israel, but noted that her performance has improved since the Arab Spring, particular with her harsh criticism of Syria. "Over the next two years we will continue to encourage High Commissioner Pillay to speak out on human rights violations wherever they may occur, and to address ongoing shortcomings in the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights’ works, " a U.S. official, who declined to speak on the record, told Turtle Bay.

In contrast, European governments offered a robust vote of confidence in Pillay. Britain’s human rights minister, Jeremy Browne, welcomed Pillay’s reappointment, saying the "United Kingdom strongly supports the role of the High Commissioner and her Office, who lead efforts to promote and protect human rights throughout the world. The struggle for human rights is continuous. The High Commissioner’s role is critical and entails enormous responsibilities: helping prevent human rights violations wherever they occur, encouraging respect for human rights by all States, and strengthening the ability of the UN system as a whole to act.

Pillay also received the backing of Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director of Human Rights Watch, who said, "Some of the attacks against Navi Pillay seem misguided and portray her record unfairly. While she could do more to raise the public profile of her office, she has been a key champion of human rights in the Arab spring, Ivory Coast and beyond."

A former judge in South Africa and on the International Criminal Court, Pillay was appointed the U.N.’s top human rights job in September 2008, serving out a four-year term that was scheduled to expire in the fall. Some U.N. officials said that Pillay had sought a second four-year term, but was rebuffed by Ban, while others said that she had asked Ban for only two, citing exhaustion with the job.

Pillay’s office declined a request for comment.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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