The U.S. must remain at the table to help lead the way forward on human rights. In response to the Obama Administration’s announcement Wednesday, that the United States will seek a new term on the United Nations Human Rights Council, Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation, released the following statement praising the positive impact U.S. membership has had in advancing human rights.
“I applaud the announcement by the Obama Administration to seek a new term on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The United States has a long history of supporting UN human rights mechanisms, beginning with our deep involvement in founding the UN and our efforts to ensure that the organization would hold the promotion of human rights as one of its core pillars.
“In 2009, I joined with many human rights leaders in calling for the Administration to re-engage in the Council. It was clear then and it is even clearer now that working from within, the United States can make a substantial difference in protecting human rights globally and improving the work of the UN. As a Council member, the United States has been able to refocus attention on the worst abusers of human rights and encourage more positive results by building coalitions across regional groups. As part of the Council, the United States has also ensured that other serious human rights issues, such as the rights of women, and political and religious freedom, are addressed by the international community.
“Though the Council isn’t perfect, it has become more balanced since the U.S. re-engaged. It is critical for the United States to remain at the table to help lead the way forward. Effective U.S. diplomacy remains as necessary as ever and I welcome the Obama Administration decision to continue robust support for and engagement in the UN Human Rights Council.”
Since joining the Human Rights Council, the United States has taken actions that have had a significant impact on the Council:
•In the last week, the Council voted to establish a UN human rights investigator for Iran, adopted a groundbreaking resolution that seeks to address violence, discrimination, and incitement to religious hatred without reference to the controversial notion of “defamation of religions,” and appointed Frances Raday, a British/Israeli human rights litigator, to advise the Council on ways to address discrimination against women – the first time the body has ever appointed a representative of Israel to a position of this kind.
•In February of this year, the Council recommended, and the UN General Assembly agreed to, the suspension of Libya’s membership in the body and to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya. These actions helped make the case for the Security Council’s international mandate for action, leading to the current military operation to protect the Libyan people.
•In October of 2010, U.S. diplomats worked with a broad coalition to overcome objections by countries such as China and Cuba to establish a new monitor for the implementation on the rights of assembly and association and to hold governments accountable that do not uphold these fundamental freedoms. The Council also created a new mechanism to fight discrimination against women and to provide expertise to governments that seek advice on improving the opportunities available to women and girls.
•In June 2010, the U.S. worked together to obtain a cross-regional statement on human rights violations in Iran joined by 56 countries. In addition, the efforts of the U.S. and other nations in opposing Iran’s candidacy for a seat on the Council led to Iran’s withdrawal in the face of certain defeat.