One of the early decisions the Obama Administration made to differentiate itself from the “unilateralist” Bush Administration was to announce that the U.S. would run for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council. The Council was created in 2006 to replace the hugely discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights that had failed to reliably confront governments that violated the rights of their citizens, allowed human rights abusers to sit on the Commission for the sole purpose of blunting its effectiveness, and demonized Israel at every opportunity.
In 2006, despite strong criticism of the Commission, the Bush administration was one of a handful of countries to vote against the resolution creating the Council. It did so because it feared that the Council lacked the safeguards to prevent it from repeating the mistakes of the Council. The record of the Council supports this conclusion. In its first three years, the Council has performed as poorly, perhaps even worse than, the Commission it replaced. The Bush administration rightly distanced the U.S. from the Council.
However, earlier this year, the Obama administration ran for and won a seat on the Council. Ambassador Susan Rice stated, “The U.S. is seeking election to the Council because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights. We hope to work in partnership with many countries to achieve a more effective Council.”
So what have we seen at the first session of the Council with the U.S. as a member? The Honduran ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva was ejected from the Human Rights Council when other Latin American countries (prominently Cuba, but also Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico) objected to his presence because he supports the for Honduras’ de facto ruler Roberto Micheletti rather than ousted President Zelaya. Never mind that it was Zelaya that sought to violate the law and the “illegal” regime that observed the Honduran constitution.
Mind you, this is the same Council that includes authoritarian and repressive governments like China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Russia to name a few.
Meanwhile, Esther Brimmer, U.S. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, told the council that the “United States will not look the other way in the face of serious human rights abuses… we will call things as we see them and we will stand our ground when the truth is at stake.”