The UN Human Rights Council: Reform or Regression?
Recorded on May 2, 2008
Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium
The U.N. General Assembly voted in March 2006 to replace the
Commission on Human Rights with the Human Rights Council because
the Commission, dominated by human rights abusers who used their
influence to block scrutiny or criticism, proved unable to champion
human rights. The new Council drew strong praise from Former
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, High Commissioner for Human Rights
Louise Arbour, and a number of human rights groups. The U.S.
was concerned that the Council would not be an improvement over the
old Commission and voted against the resolution creating the
Unfortunately, concerns voiced by the United States that the
Council would be ineffective in promoting fundamental human rights
have been realized. Like the Commission, the Council has
focused on criticizing Israel, condemning it in 19 separate
resolutions and decisions. No other country, not even noted
human rights violators like Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea,
or Sudan, have received a fraction of the criticism or attention
that the Council has focused on Israel. Based on this bias
and other problems, the U.S. announced that it will withhold an
amount equivalent to the U.S. share of the Human Rights Council
budget from its 2008 funding for the United Nations.
Despite its poor record, even skeptics hoped that the Council
could do a service for human rights through its new Universal
Periodic Review of human rights practices in all countries.
Was the U.S. right to distance itself from the Council? Has the
Council proven to be an effective champion for human rights?
Has the Council focused on key human rights issues? Did the first
session of the UPR meet expectations? What can we expect in
the upcoming May election? What are the prospects for the
Council going forward?