As Human Rights Day 2011 approaches, skeptics say the new UN
Human Rights Council has not lived up to its mandate. Some suggest
democratic nations should abandon it. At a time when we should be
making it stronger, forsaking the Council is the wrong way to
advance human rights.
Five years ago, the United Nations replaced the much-maligned
Commission on Human Rights with the Human Rights Council, a historic
move that I hoped would mark a new era for the UN's work in
safeguarding the rights of millions of people around the world. The
Human Rights Council recently concluded its first review, and it is
clear that as a result of robust engagement by its members, the
Council has made important progress in promoting and protecting
human rights around the world.
Still, many believe the review did not result in the fundamental
changes they had hoped for. Some critics have even suggested that
Western and democratic states should walk away from the Council. But
at a moment when we should be making it stronger, forsaking the
Council is the wrong way to advance human rights.
Recent events in the Middle East, North Africa, and elsewhere
once again demonstrate that we must have a credible, balanced, and
preeminent global body to expose human rights abuses and take
actions to alleviate them. Human rights are universal and must be
universally upheld. Therefore, to be effective, this body must be
accountable to all countries - not only to a few - and also be
broadly representative. The Human Rights Council is both.
Some say that by enabling authoritarian states to be elected as
members, the Council's effectiveness is diminished. They argue
further that the time and effort expended to improve the Council's
methods is not worth the incremental progress. Instead, they believe
democratic states should not use up their diplomatic capital at the
Council, but seek instead to advance human rights in other forums.
It is true that the Council has not always lived up to its
potential and that at times the diplomatic effort it requires is
time consuming and difficult. But these are not sufficient reasons
to give up on it. Imagine an ostensibly global human rights body
that was only accountable to and representative of a handful of
countries. It could not credibly or effectively speak out against or
influence human rights situations in much of the world.
In the midst of the Arab Spring, the Human Rights Council -
backed by the UN General Assembly's universal membership - voted
unanimously to suspend Libya's membership. The Council has also
condemned Syria's human rights violations by a strong majority vote,
forced it to withdraw its bid for a seat, and appointed an
investigation into human rights violations there. …