View Full Version : United States Pulls Out Of U.N. Human Rights Body

06-08-2008, 11:01 PM
United States pulls out of UN human rights body


Nick Langewis
Published: Sunday June 8, 2008

In a State Department briefing on Friday, it was announced that the United States will no longer be regularly attending meetings held by the United Nations' Human Rights Council unless specifically compelled to, citing the Council's stance on relations between Israel and Palestine.

While not an official member, the United States had been an involved observer since the 47-seat Council's creation in March 2006 to replace the 53-member Commission on Human Rights.

"It will be ad hoc," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a reporter on Friday when asked of the United States' continued participation. "I'm not going to try to tie our hands diplomatically one way or the other."

"Look," he said, "our skepticism regarding the function of the UN Council on Human Rights in terms of fulfilling its mandate and its mission is well known. It has a rather pathetic record in that regard. Instead of focusing on some of the real and deep human rights issues around the world, it has really turned into a forum that seems to be almost solely focused on bashing Israel."

"[Today] they were speaking about Burma," the reporter responded. "Isn't that something of deep national interest to the United States?"

McCormack responded: "You know, simply put, Matt, because we don't think it is a serious institution in dealing with human rights--human rights issues, we are going to take a more reserved approach in terms of engaging the Council, just because the--our ability and the ability of others to really influence this body is proven to be rather minimal over the past couple of years, and as a result we are just--we're going to choose more selectively how and when to engage the Council."

"The US decision to walk away from the Human Rights Council is counter-productive and short-sighted," said Human Rights Watch advocacy director Juliette de Rivero. "Whatever the council's problems, this decision is a victory for abusive states and a betrayal of those fighting for their rights worldwide."

Human Rights Watch says that the United States' move amounts to the abandonment of people worldwide who suffer as a result of human rights abuses, and the principles for which the Council stands.

"Washington's hands-off approach to the Human Rights Council undermined it from the start," continued de Rivero. "It's ironic that the US shares responsibility for the shortcomings it's now using to justify further distancing itself from the council."

The Council has garnered past criticism from UN Secretary Kofi Annan in addition to the State Department over Israel. "...I am worried by [the Council's] disproportionate focus on violations by Israel," Annan said in his address to mark International Human Rights Day on December 8, 2006. "Not that Israel should be given a free pass. Absolutely not. But the Council should give the same attention to grave violations committed by other states as well."

"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," said the State Department's McCormack on March 6, 2007. "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 rights."

Israel is the only country that the Council has specifically condemned. In addition, it voted in June of 2006 to make suspected human rights abuses by Israel a permanent point of discussion for each meeting. Human Rights Watch had urged the Council to give equal time to suspected abuses on the Palestinian side of the ongoing conflict as well.

In addition to voting against the Council's original inception, Human Rights Watch noted, the United States is further divorced from the philosophy of the Council by utilizing questionable interrogation tactics on "War on Terror" detainees and being uncooperative with those within the Council that sought to investigate the treatment of those housed at Guantánamo Bay.

"Instead of ceding the field to those who want to shield abusers from scrutiny," added de Rivero, "the US should have redoubled its efforts to make the council work as it should."