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Can the Obama Administration Make the UN Human Rights Council Effective?

Recorded on May 8, 2009

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium

The U.N. Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the U.N. Commission on Human Rights after that body's reputation had fallen so far that even U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged "the Commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole."  Regrettably, during negotiations to establish the Council, many basic reforms and standards designed to ensure that it would not repeat the Commission's mistakes failed to gain the necessary support in the General Assembly.  The Human Rights Council's first three years have been bitterly disappointing, with the Council continuing the worst practices of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, including stigmatizing Israel and overlooking serious human rights violations by China, Cuba, and other states.  These practices led the Bush Administration to distance the U.S. from the Council.

Human rights organizations and nations that support increased U.S. participation with the Council have anticipated that the Obama Administration would reverse the U.S. policy of non-engagement with the Council.  On March 31, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fulfilled this expectation by announcing that the U.S. would seek a seat on the Council in the upcoming May election to "make it a more effective body to promote and protect human rights."

What is necessary for the Council to become an effective advocate for promoting human rights?  Can U.S. membership on the Council dramatically improve its effectiveness?  Or, are the Council's flaws too serious for any one country to overcome?