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Feb 09

Sea Change or Cosmetic Change? The Human Rights Council and the Future of Human Rights at the United Nations

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Allison Auditorium

The Commission on Human Rights is the premier human rights body in the United Nations system, charged with examining allegations of human rights abuses and taking action against those governments found to be complicit in such crimes. However, the Commission has fallen far short of fulfilling this responsibility. It has devolved into a feckless organization dominated by human rights abusers eager to block criticism of their own deplorable actions. Six of the fifty-three member nations of the Commission were named "worst of the worst" human rights abusers by Freedom House. Even Secretary General Kofi Annan acknowledged, "We have reached a point at which the Commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system."

Last fall, the UN agreed to create a Human Rights Council to replace the Commission. The U.S. and other countries have sought to make this Council a smaller, more effective advocate for human rights, with standards for membership to make it more difficult for human rights abusers to serve. Will ongoing negotiations result in a sea change or cosmetic change in how the UN addresses human rights abuses? How are negotiations on the proposed Human Rights Council taking shape? Who are the spoilers and what are the biggest challenges? Will the new Council address the weaknesses of the discredited Human Rights Commission? What changes have been agreed to and would they increase the effectiveness of the UN in promoting human rights? What alternatives should be considered if negotiations result only in cosmetic changes?

Related Reading

The U.N. Human Rights Council Is Not Enough: Time for a New Approach to human Rights

Relativism and Rights

The Sum of It's Parts

Sins of Commission

More About the Speakers

Mark P. Lagon
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs,
U.S. Department of State

Ted Piccone
Executive Director,
Democracy Coalition Project

Joe Loconte
William E. Simon Fellow in
Religion and a Free Society,
The Heritage Foundation

Lee Feinstein
Deputy Director of Studies,
Council on Foreign Relations

Anne Bayefsky
Senior Fellow,
Hudson Institute;
Touro Law School;

Hosted By

Brett D. Schaefer Brett D. Schaefer

Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs Read More