The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) was established in
2006 to replace the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights
(CHR). Despite minimal safeguards against capture of the HRC by
human rights abusers-the source of the commission's
ineffectiveness-HRC supporters, including U.N. High Commissioner
for Human Rights Louise Arbour, were quick to declare that the new
body represented the "dawn of a new era" in promoting human rights
in the United Nations. U.N. General Assembly President Jan
Eliasson, who oversaw the reform negotiations, called the council
"a new beginning for the promotion and protection of human
rights" and declared that the council would be "principled,
effective and fair." After nearly a year in existence and
four regular sessions and four special sessions, the HRC has
clearly been none of these.
The United States was one of only four countries that voted
against the U.N. General Assembly resolution that created the
council. The U.S. cast its vote out of concern that
the new council would lack safeguards against the problems that
afflicted the CHR. Regrettably, this concern has proved to be well
- The council has mirrored the commission's obsessive focus
on Israel to the detriment of other, more severe human rights
- It has become a platform for human rights abusers to deflect
criticism rather than being held to account.
- The abusive states are leading an effort to undermine the
few effective aspects of the council, such as the special
procedures dedicated to examining human rights abuses in specific
countries, and are supporting efforts to weaken the universal
periodic review of the human rights practices of all U.N. member
The U.S. chose not to run for a seat on the HRC in 2006 and
2007. This was the right decision. Until the council proves
effective, the U.S. should not lend its credibility to the flawed
body by participating.
However, the U.S. should use its influence to make the body
effective by encouraging states with good human rights records to
run for seats on the council and by speaking up on situations
before the council. The U.S. should encourage the council to
maintain procedures that have proven effective and strive to block
efforts by human rights abusers to weaken those procedures. It
should also seek to make the universal periodic review of council
member states as frequent and objective as possible.
The council will make many of these decisions in the upcoming
June session. Success in these areas should lead the U.S. to
continue its engagement with the council. Failure would demonstrate
that the council is simply incapable of effectively advancing
fundamental human rights, in which case the U.S. should publicly
wash its hands of the council and withhold its portion of the
council's budget from its contributions to the U.N.
Human Rights Failure at the U.N.
Since the birth of the United Nations, protecting and advancing
fundamental human rights has been one of the organization's primary
objectives. The drafters of the U.N. Charter included a pledge by
member states "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in
the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of
men and women." U.N. treaties, such as the Universal
Declaration on Human Rights, which the General Assembly passed in
1948, form the core of international standards for human
Yet the U.N.'s recent record in promoting fundamental human
rights is riddled with failure and inaction. For nearly six
decades, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights epitomized this
failure as the premier U.N. human rights body charged with
reviewing the human rights performance of states and promoting
human rights around the world. Sadly, the commission
devolved into a feckless organization that human rights
abusers used to block criticism and into a forum for attacks on
Israel. The disrepute of the CHR grew so great that
even former U.N. 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 as a whole, and where piecemeal reforms will not be
After lengthy deliberations and negotiations, the U.N. General
Assembly voted to replace the commission with a new Human
Rights Council in March 2006. Regrettably, during the
negotiations, the General Assembly rejected many of the reforms and
standards that had been proposed to ensure that the council would
not repeat the mistakes of the commission. For instance, the U.S. wanted
a much smaller body than the 53-member commission to enable it
to act more easily; a high threshold for election to the council (a
two-thirds vote of the General Assembly); and a prohibition on
electing nations to the council that are under U.N. Security
Council sanction for human rights abuses. Extensive
negotiations in the General Assembly produced a 47-member council
that is only marginally smaller than the commission, approved a
simple majority vote for election rather than the two-thirds
requirement, and did not ban human rights violators from
sitting on the council.
Because the resolution creating the HRC lacked serious
membership criteria, the U.S. voted against it. "Absent stronger
mechanisms for maintaining credible membership, the United States
could not join consensus on this resolution," explained then-U.S.
Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton. "We did not have sufficient
confidence in this text to be able to say that the HRC would be
better than its predecessor." Well-known human rights
abusers Burma, China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan,
Syria, and Zimbabwe voted in favor of the new council.
After the resolution passed over U.S. objection, the U.S.
announced that it would not run for a seat on the council in 2006
but would consider running in the future if the council proved
effective. Thus, the U.S. reserved judgment until the
council had a chance to prove its merit. As Ambassador Bolton
noted, "The real test will be the quality of membership that
emerges on this council and whether it takes effective action to
address serious human rights abuse cases like Sudan, Cuba, Iran,
Zimbabwe, Belarus, and Burma." The council has failed on
Many Human Rights Abusers Elected to the
The resolution that created the HRC established no hard criteria
for membership other than quotas for each of the regional groups in
the U.N. and a requirement that council members be elected by a
simple majority of the General Assembly (currently 97 of 192
votes). No state, no matter how poor its human rights record, is
barred from membership. Even states under Security Council sanction
for human rights abuses are not excluded.
The resolution instructs U.N. member states that "when electing
members of the council, Member States shall take into account the
contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human
rights." Candidates are also asked to submit
"voluntary pledges and commitments" on their qualifications for the
council based on their past and future adherence to and observance
of human rights standards.The toothlessness of this
instruction quickly became evident when notorious human rights
abusers Algeria, Cuba, China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and
Russia ran for election, asserting their strong commitment to human
rights and pledging their commitment to such standards in the
The May 2006 election showed that simply creating a new
council had not convinced the General Assembly to spurn the
candidacies of human rights abusers. Despite their poor human
rights records and disingenuous pledges, the General Assembly
elected Algeria, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia to
Contrary to the bold predictions that the new council would be a
significant improvement over the commission, the council's
membership in 2006 was only marginally better than the commission's
membership in 2005. The highly touted requirement for a
majority vote was undermined by the secret ballot voting process
that shielded governments from accountability for their votes
and facilitated horse trading and negotiations. This yielded
only minimal improvement in the ratio of "free" to "partially free"
to "not free" countries.(See Table 1.) Less than half of the
commission's members in 2005 were considered "free" by Freedom
House. China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, and Zimbabwe-some
of the world's worst human rights abusers-routinely used their
positions on the commission to block scrutiny of their own
practices and to launch spurious attacks on other
countries for political reasons (e.g., Israel) or for speaking
openly about their human rights violations (e.g., the
As Ambassador Bolton noted, for the council to perform better
than the commission, it must start with better membership. The
first council election produced a council in which 25 countries out
of 47 members (53 percent) were ranked "free" by Freedom
House-a marginal improvement over the commission. Some of the more
disreputable human rights abusers-Burma, North Korea, Sudan, and
Zimbabwe-did not run for seats. Iran and Venezuela ran for
seats but were unsuccessful, although Venezuela received enough
votes (101) to have won a seat if other states had not won more
support. Despite these minor successes, a number
of states with dismal human rights records won seats, including
Algeria, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Cuba, China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia,
Tunisia, and Russia.
The second council election, held on May 17, 2007, marked a
regression from 2006. The number of "free" countries on
the council declined, and the number of "not free" countries
increased. The only significant victory was blocking Belarus from
winning a seat. Yet until about a week before the election, Belarus
and Slovenia were the only two candidates for the two open Eastern
European seats. Only enormous pressure from human rights groups and
the U.S. persuaded Bosnia and Herzegovina to run, denying Belarus a
seat on the council. However, Angola, Egypt, Qatar, and
Bolivia-states with dismal human rights records-were elected
An additional concern is that, unlike the robust competition for
seats in the 2006 election, only two regions-Eastern European
States and the Western Europe and Other States-offered more
candidates than available seats in the 2007 election.
The decision of the African, Asian, and Latin American and
Caribbean regions to offer only enough candidates to fill
their open seats marked a disturbing return to the practices of the
commission and defeated the purpose of competitive elections in the
General Assembly, which were supposed to offer a larger choice of
possible candidates in order to select the best possible members
for the council.
The HRC's Disappointing Record
During its first year, the Human Rights Council has proven just as
feckless in confronting human rights abuses and just as vulnerable
to politically motivated attacks on Israel as its predecessor.
Council decisions reveal that the bulk of its membership has
declined to scrutinize major violators of human rights and has
instead focused disproportionately on censuring Israel.
Specifically, according to UN Watch, a Geneva-based
nongovernmental organization (NGO) focused on the work of the Human
Rights Council, "To date, there have been 12 country-specific HRC
resolutions: nine censures of Israel and three non-condemnatory
resolutions on Sudan." Even the commission had a better record.
Over a 40-year period, only 30 percent of its resolutions
condemning specific states for human rights violations focused
In its first four regular sessions and four special sessions,
the council failed to address ongoing repression in Belarus, China,
Cuba, North Korea, and Zimbabwe and many other dire human rights
situations around the world. Nor did the HRC censure the government
of Sudan for its role in the genocide in Darfur. Instead, it
adopted three mild decisions expressing "concern" regarding the
human rights and humanitarian situation in Darfur and dispatched a
"High-Level Mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur
and the needs of the Sudan in this regard." However, the
council did find the time to hold three special sessions on Israel
and pass nine strong resolutions condemning Israel.
During more than 10 weeks worth of meetings in its first year,
- Passed 12 resolutions on the human rights situations in
only two countries. Nine were one-sided condemnations of Israel.
Three were soft, non-condemnatory resolutions on Sudan.
- Did not adopt a single resolution or decision condemning human
rights abuses in 19 of the 20 "worst of the worst" repressive human
rights situations as identified by Freedom House in 2007. The
19 other situations-which do not include Sudan-are Belarus, Burma,
China, Tibet (China), Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Cuba,
Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Libya, Western Sahara (Morocco),
North Korea, Chechnya (Russia), Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria,
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe.
- Convened its first three special sessions on Israel. In the
first special session, it adopted a one-sided resolution condemning
Israel but ignoring the provocations of Palestinian armed groups. In
a second special session on August 11, 2006, it adopted a
resolution that strongly condemned Israel for "violations of human
rights and breaches of international humanitarian law in Lebanon"
but ignored provocations by Hezbollah. The council
convened its third special session on November 15, again on
- Convened its fourth special session in mid-December 2006 on the
human rights situation in the Darfur region of Sudan. The tone and
conclusions of the session were markedly different from those
of previous special sessions in that the council took pains not to
ascribe any wrongdoing to the Sudanese government. The resulting
resolution was non-condemnatory, merely expressing "concern
regarding the seriousness of the human rights and humanitarian
situation." The resolution did not even mention the word
"violations," and a European alternative expressing "grave
concern" was rejected. 
- Requested a report during the fourth special session on
the situation in Darfur. The investigatory mission was led by Nobel
Peace Laureate Jody Williams. The Sudanese government denied the
mission entry to Darfur, forcing it to investigate from Ethiopia
and Chad. As expected, the mission's report strongly condemned
the Sudanese government for orchestrating and participating in
"large-scale international crimes in Darfur." Allies of Sudan
on the council subsequently rejected the report as invalid because
the investigatory team had not gone to Darfur. The council
finally adopted a weak resolution that "took note" of the Williams
report but did not adopt its recommendations or condemn the
Sudanese government for its actions in Darfur.
- Decided in its fourth regular session to discontinue
consideration of the human rights situations in Iran and
Uzbekistan under the 1503 procedure, which involves
confidential proceedings to encourage government cooperation.
The confidential nature of the proceedings makes it difficult to
determine the reasoning for discontinuing consideration of the
human rights situations in Iran and Uzbekistan. This decision is
an appalling abdication by the council of its
responsibilities, considering that many human rights organizations
and the U.S. Department of State have argued convincingly that
severe human rights abuses and government-sanctioned oppression and
mistreatment demand scrutiny by the council. Despite evidence
of extensive human rights abuse, 25 of the council's 47
members voted to end scrutiny of Iran and Uzbekistan.
- Adopted two resolutions that condemn "defamation of
religions" but specifically mention only Islam. After a Danish
newspaper published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in 2005,
the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) led an effort to
persuade the commission and then the council to adopt a resolution
against the defamation of Islam. In June 2006, the council
responded by passing a resolution merely requiring expert
reports. However, it passed a second resolution in March 2007 that
expressed "deep concern at attempts to identify Islam with
terrorism, violence and human rights violations" and urged
states to "to take all possible measures to promote tolerance and
respect for all religions and their value systems and to complement
legal systems with intellectual and moral strategies to combat
religious hatred and intolerance." Worryingly, the resolution
asserts that the right to freedom of expression may be limited out
of "respect for religions and beliefs."
All council members pledge their commitment to human rights
standards when they run for election. As a council member, a
country is supposed to "uphold the highest standards in the
promotion and protection of human rights." Yet the council's
actions reveal a profound lack of commitment to either human rights
Some of this disappointing performance can be blamed on the
negligible difference in quality between the council's membership
and the commission's membership. The situation is aggravated
by the shift in proportional representation of regions from the
commission, which had greater representation of Western
democracies, to the council, in which Africa and Asia control a
majority. This has dramatically increased the influence of groups
like the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the OIC. Members of the NAM
also held a majority of seats in the council's first year. The OIC
held 17 seats, more than the one-third (16 seats) required to call
a special session. Unsurprisingly, both groups have repeatedly
used their influence to attack Israel and to protect abusive states
from council scrutiny.
However, the most frustrating aspect of the council's first year
has been the reluctance of free, democratic states, including South
Africa and India, to support human rights efforts on the council.
As UN Watch noted:
[A]lthough slightly more than half of the council's 47 members
are free democracies, only a minority of these countries-about a
dozen-have consistently voted in defense of the values and
principles that the council is supposed to promote. Instead, the
body has been dominated by an increasingly brazen alliance of
repressive regimes seeking not only to spoil needed reforms but to
undermine the few meaningful mechanisms of UN human rights
protection that already exist. Their goal is impunity for
systematic abuses. Unfortunately, too many democracies have
thus far gone along with the spoilers, out of loyalty to
regional groups and other political alliances.
A UN Watch analysis of significant actions taken by the council
during its first year concluded that only 13 of the council's 47
members were net positive contributors to its human rights
agenda. Four free democracies-Indonesia, Mali, Senegal, and South
Africa-were among the 17 receiving the worst score of -16 points
out of a possible -20 points. India did minimally better, receiving
a score of -15 points.
The Case Against Participation
The council's disappointing record led the U.S. to decline to seek
election to the council for the second year in a row in 2007. As
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack explained:
We believe that the Human Rights Council has thus far not proved
itself to be a credible body in the mission that it has been
charged with. There has been a nearly singular focus on issues
related to Israel, for example, to the exclusion of examining
issues of real concern to the international system, whether that's
in Cuba or Burma or in North Korea.
So we are going to remain as observers to the Human Rights
Council and we hope that over time, that this body will expand its
focus and become a more credible institution representative of
the important mission with which it is charged. But nonetheless,
the United States will remain actively engaged not only in the UN
system but also outside of the UN system in promoting human
The U.S. decision not to run for a seat on the Human Rights
Council drew sharp criticism from human rights groups, U.N.
advocates, and political opponents. These groups claim that the
U.S. is undermining the council's credibility and that it would be
a stronger, more effective advocate for human rights if the U.S.
were on it. For instance, Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA),
chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, strongly
criticized the Administration's decision:
[I]n an act of unparalleled defeatism, the Administration
announced that for a second year in a row, the United States will
step aside to allow a cabal of military juntas, single-party states
and tin-pot dictators to retain their death grip on the world's
human rights machinery.
There is little evidence to support Representative Lantos's
claim, which incorrectly assumes that simply having the U.S.
on the council would have changed its decisions. Because council
membership is based on geographic representation, the U.S. would
simply displace one of the seven countries representing the Western
Europe and Other States region, which already vote largely as the
U.S. would vote. Thus, any gain from a U.S. vote on the council
would be marginal.
Nor would winning a seat on the council necessarily give
the U.S. greater voice or influence. Any U.N. member state can
comment on and speak to issues before the council, and the U.S. has
frequently expressed its support of or opposition to various
resolutions and decisions.
What the U.S. Should Do
Any hope that the Human Rights Council would rectify the poor
record of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in holding human
rights abusers to account has proven illusory. The council does not
incorporate the protections and standards that would lead to a more
effective body. It has the potential to become a stronger body than
its discredited predecessor, but this depends entirely on the
actions of its members.
To help to achieve this goal, the U.S. should:
- Refuse to run for a seat on the council until it proves
worthy of U.S. membership. Human rights activists'
argument that U.S. membership could make the council more effective
is doubtful. The U.S. has been a close observer and active
contributor to council deliberations and proceedings, even
though it is not a member. Yet, despite the best efforts of the
U.S. and other countries, the council has fallen far short of
expectations. U.S. participation would undoubtedly increase
the council's prestige but is unlikely to increase its
The U.S. should not lend its legitimacy to such a flawed body
until the council begins to take its responsibilities seriously. A
premature decision to run for a seat would only mask the deplorable
state of the current council. As State Department spokesman Sean
McCormack noted, "We would hope that if we do come to the day when
we decide to run for the Human Rights Council, it will have gotten
to the point where it is a credible institution and that we could,
in fact, lend our diplomatic weight to the council as a
- Press for positive actions in the council,
particularly regarding its special procedures, the universal
periodic review, and interactions with NGOs. During the
upcoming June session, the council is scheduled to decide a number
of key issues, including clarifying rules for NGO participation;
deciding whether or not to maintain some or all of the
"Special Procedures" (the special rapporteurs and representatives,
independent experts, and working groups) inherited from the
commission; and determining the specific details for the universal
periodic review of all U.N. member countries' human rights
Even though the council has proven generally ineffective in
advancing fundamental human rights, some U.N. human rights
activities are useful, particularly the independent experts
who investigate human rights issues in specific countries. The
council is currently reviewing the special procedures system
to decide how to change the system, if at all. Predictably, the
human rights abusers on the council are trying to use a code of
conduct to limit the independence of country-specific experts and
trying to minimize or eliminate their ability to criticize
individual countries for human rights problems, as well as to
eliminate country mandates for special rapporteurs to
investigate human rights in countries like Belarus, Burma, Cuba,
and North Korea. These same states are trying to limit NGO input
into council deliberations. The council is also discussing the
details of how the universal periodic review of human rights in all
U.N. member states will work. Unsurprisingly, the abuser states are
trying to weaken the reviews.
The U.S. should oppose these efforts to weaken the council's
special procedures, institutions, and other activities that help to
advance fundamental human rights and hold abusive regimes to
Weigh the human rights records of aid recipients more
heavily when allocating U.S. development assistance.
The U.S. spends billions of dollars in development assistance each
year, but this assistance has a dismal record in catalyzing
economic growth. Despite the poor record of development assistance
and the mounting evidence that financial assistance is far
less important to development than sound economic policy and a
strong rule of law, support for development assistance remains
strong in the U.S. Congress.
The U.S. should focus development assistance on countries with
good policies and use it to support U.S. policy priorities.
Advancing fundamental human rights is and should be a U.S.
priority. The U.S. should try to change the dynamics of the HRC by
focusing development assistance on countries with demonstrable
records of improving human rights practices and supporting
human rights on the council.
Clearly state that unless the HRC demonstrates improvement
in confronting and advancing fundamental human rights, the U.S.
will cease to interact with the council and will withhold its
portion of HRC funding. The U.S. should not wait
indefinitely for the council to improve. Instead, it should
disengage from the council if the council fails to demonstrate
greater willingness to confront human rights abusers or to adopt a
meaningful universal periodic review process, if the council
eliminates the practice of assigning experts to assess the human
rights situations in individual countries, or if the General
Assembly continues to elect human rights abusers to the council.
Such failures would clearly indicate that the human rights abusers
are running the council agenda and that further U.S. engagement, as
a member or as an observer, could not repair the damage. Rather
than continuing to interact with a fatally flawed body, the U.S.
should refuse to participate in council processes and withhold
U.S. contributions to the body.
Advancing fundamental human rights is and should be a U.S.
priority. However, in its inaugural year, the Human Rights Council
has proven itself to be ineffective in addressing and advancing
human rights. The Bush Administration correctly decided not to seek
a seat on the council.
U.S. participation in international bodies should not be
automatic; rather, the U.S. should base its participation on the
effectiveness and relevance of the body to U.S. policy priorities.
On this basis, the Human Rights Council is a grave disappointment
that is unlikely to be greatly improved by U.S. membership.
The May 17 election of council membership does not inspire
confidence that the council will improve its performance in the
The U.S. should continue its efforts to improve the HRC's
membership, special procedures, and institutions, but it should
refuse to lend the council the credibility of U.S. membership until
the council takes its responsibilities seriously by censuring major
human rights abusers, exposing their reprehensible actions to
public scrutiny, and eschewing its disproportionate focus on
Israel. The U.S. should use its influence to oppose efforts to
weaken the council's special procedures, universal periodic review,
and other activities that contribute to the promotion of
fundamental human rights. The U.S. should also use its foreign
assistance to encourage improved human rights practices among
council members and aid recipients more broadly.
However, the U.S. should not wait indefinitely for the council
to improve. If the council does not significantly improve its
performance in the coming year or if abusive states succeed in
gutting the council of its effective elements, the U.S. should
sever ties with the council and withhold financial support for the
Schaefer is Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory
Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Maria Verbanac, an
assistant in the Thatcher Center, helped with the research for
U.N. General Assembly, Department of Public Information, "General
Assembly Establishes New Human Rights Council by Vote of 170 in
Favour to 4 Against, with 3 Abstentions," GA/10449, March 15, 2006,
(May 24, 2007).
Kofi Annan, "Secretary-General's Address to the Commission on Human
Rights," Office of the Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General,
April 7, 2005, at www.un.org/apps/sg/sgstats.asp?nid=1388
(May 24, 2007). See also Mark P. Lagon, Deputy Assistant
Secretary for International Organization Affairs, U.S. Department
of State, "The UN Commission on Human Rights: Protector or
Accomplice?" testimony before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global
Human Rights and International Operations, Committee on
International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, April 19,
2005, at www.state.gov/p/io/rls/rm/44983.htm (May 24,
Press release, "Explanation of Vote by Ambassador John R. Bolton,
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on the Human
Rights Council Draft Resolution, in the General Assembly," U.S.
Mission to the United Nations, March 15, 2006, at
www.un.int/usa/06_051.htm (May 24, 2007).
Schaefer, "The United Nations Human Rights Council."
U.N. General Assembly, "General Assembly Establishes New Human
Press release, "Explanation of Vote by Ambassador John R.
For pledges and candidates for election to the Human Rights Council
in 2006, see U.N. General Assembly, "Human Rights Council," at www.un.org/ga/60/elect/hrc (May 24,
2007). For pledges and candidates for election to the Human Rights
Council in 2007, see U.N. General Assembly, "Human Rights Council
Election," May 17, 2007, at www.un.org/ga/61/elect/hrc
(May 24, 2007). See also Brett D. Schaefer, "Human Rights
Relativism Redux: UN Human Rights Council Mirrors Discredited
Human Rights Commission," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 1069, May
10, 2006, at www.heritage.org/Research/InternationalOrganizations/wm1069.cfm.
Schaefer, "Human Rights Relativism Redux" and "The United Nations
Human Rights Council."
The resolution calls for one-third of the HRC to be elected
annually. The 47 members elected in 2006 were randomly assigned
terms of one, two, or three years to set the stage for this
process. Each member elected in 2007 will hold its term for the
full three years. For a list of members and their terms, see U.N.
Human Rights Council, "Membership of the Human Rights Council," at
(May 24, 2007).
According to one news report, Bosnia and Herzegovina decided to run
only after the U.S. strongly implied to other European countries
that the U.S. would run for a council seat next year if Belarus did
not win a seat. If true, this is a perverse and shortsighted
strategy that would undermine America's principled position not to
run for a seat until the council proves its merit in return for
only a one-time defeat of Belarus. Maggie Farley, "U.S. Appears
Willing to Join U.N. Human Rights Panel," Los Angeles Times, May
18, 2007, at www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/
la-fg-rights18may18,1,2886241.story (May 24, 2007).
For a list of the candidates for the Human Rights Council in 2007,
see U.N. General Assembly, "Human Rights Council Election."
For instance, the July resolution on Israel and Palestine was
passed by a vote of 29 to 11 with five abstentions, the August
decision on the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon was passed by
a vote of 27 to 11 with 8 abstentions, and the November decision on
Darfur involved a vote of 25 to 11 with 10 abstentions. Canada, the
Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland,
Romania, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom voted against these
resolutions. Switzerland and Japan voted for at least one. Press
release, "Human Rights Council Decides to Dispatch Urgent
Fact-Finding Mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territories," U.N.
Human Rights Council, July 6, 2006, at www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_media.nsf/
(httpNewsByYear_en)/6382E27860145DA7C12571A3004D1F19 (May 24,
2007); press release, "Second Special Session of Human Rights
Council Decides to Establish High-Level Inquiry Commission for
Lebanon," U.N. Human Rights Council, August 11, 2006, at
(May 24, 2007); and press release, "Human Rights Council Notes with
Concern Serious Human Rights and Humanitarian Situation in Darfur,"
November 28, 2006, at www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_media.nsf/
(httpNewsByYear_en)/62C6B3F928618CCEC12572340046C4BB (May 24,
This figure increased over time. In 2005, the commission adopted
four resolutions against Israel and four resolutions against all
other countries. UN Watch, "Dawn of a New Era?"
U.N. Human Rights Council, "Decision 2/115: Darfur," November 28,
2006, at http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/HRC/
decisions/A-HRC-DEC-2-115.doc (May 24, 2007), and "Decision
S-4/101: Situation of Human Rights in Darfur," December 13, 2006,
specialsession/4/docs/Dec_S_4_101_en.doc (May 24,
UN Watch, "Dawn of a New Era?" p. 12.
The Working Group on Situations (WGS) examines the particular
situations referred to it by the Working Group on
Communications under the 1503 procedure. The WGS then makes
recommendations to the council on how to proceed. In these cases,
it recommended that the council discontinue consideration of the
situations in Iran and Uzbekistan. The WGS is composed of
representatives from five countries, including Zimbabwe, despite
that country's own massive abuses that merit council consideration.
See Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Working
Group on Situations," at www.ohchr.org/english/issues/situations/index.htm
(May 25, 2007).
U.N. Human Rights Council, "Report to the General Assembly on the
Fourth Session of the Human Rights Council."
U.N. General Assembly, "Human Rights Council."
UN Watch, "Dawn of a New Era?" p. 1.
U.N. Watch scored 20 "key actions" of the council in its first
year. The positions taken by countries on these key actions were
assigned a value: 1 point for taking a positive position for human
rights in the council, 0 points for taking a neutral position, and
-1 point for taking a negative position. Ibid., pp. 5-8 and
Press statement, "The United States Will Not Seek Election to the
UN Human Rights Council."
UN Watch, "Dawn of a New Era?" pp. 16-17.
The HRC is funded through the U.N. regular budget, so the U.S.
cannot directly withhold funding. Instead, it could withhold
an amount equal to the U.S. portion of the council's budget (about
$3 million annually) from the U.N. regular budget. This withholding
would have little direct effect on the council's budget because the
withholding would be spread across all U.N. activities funded
through the regular budget, but it would clearly signal U.S.
displeasure with the council. Congress should also take this as a
lesson to move toward more direct funding of U.N. activities,
ideally through voluntary budgets, so that the U.S. can tailor its
financial support to bolster U.N. activities that perform well or
support U.S. interests and to lessen support for activities that
perform poorly or do not support U.S. interests.