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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 Council.

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?