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Obama’s U.N. Debacle
The Obama administration’s big hopes of reforming the Human Rights Council from within are in shreds.


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Anne Bayefsky

President Obama’s decision to place the United Nations at the center of his foreign policy took another hit Friday as the U.N. Human Rights Council ended its latest session in Geneva. One of the president’s primary justifications for joining the notorious council shortly after he assumed office was its mandatory five-year review process; if the U.S. was a member, the administration claimed, it could influence this process. The process, which quietly unfolded in back rooms in Geneva over the past six months, has been exposed to be a total fraud, taking the administration’s cover down with it.

Starting last fall, the Obama team was a very active participant in a working group of the council that had been set up to tackle reform. At the end of February, the working group produced a document summarizing its decisions, and on Friday the council passed a resolution adopting that document by consensus — that is, without a vote. Regardless of the fact that every serious recommendation of the United States was rejected, Obama’s diplomats refused to call for a vote on the resolution so that they could vote against it.

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They did play a little game intended to fool uninformed listeners by claiming to “dissociate” the administration from the resolution. However, since the resolution has been adopted by consensus, it will proceed unimpeded to the General Assembly, where it will be rubber-stamped. The U.S. could not have stopped the resolution, but an American vote against the measure would have been a major blow to the credibility of the Human Rights Council. It also would have set up the U.S. to leave the council as a logical consequence of the failure to reform it.

The slap in the face to President Obama is painfully clear from a short list of American demands for reform and the council’s responses.

The council has an official, permanent agenda that governs all its meetings and consists of only ten items. One of those items is reserved for condemning Israel, and another is assigned to human rights in the other 191 U.N. member states. This session, for instance, produced six resolutions condemning Israel, one resolution each on four other states, and nothing at all on the remaining 187 countries. The American delegation huffed and puffed that this obvious discrimination — which characterizes every meeting of the council — must come to an end, and proposed that the two agenda items be rolled into one. The proposal was rejected.

The American delegation proposed creating easier trigger mechanisms for convening special sessions on specific countries when serious human-rights concerns arise. The proposal was rejected.

The American delegation proposed abolishing the council’s make-work “Advisory Committee.” It is currently populated by such human-rights luminaries as former Sandinista leader and suspended priest Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann. (Brockmann once served as president of the U.N. General Assembly and is best remembered for a series of anti-Semitic outbursts and for coming down off his podium to hug Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.) The proposal was rejected.

The American delegation proposed making public pre-screened complaints of gross and systematic violations of human rights that are received by the council. Specific cases, which have poured into the U.N. for over half a century from poor souls around the world, have never been revealed. The proposal was rejected.

The American delegation proposed expanding the time allocated to discussions of abuses in specific countries. The proposal was rejected.

The American delegation proposed that states running for a seat on the council should engage in a public dialogue with General Assembly members on their human-rights record, as measured by specific criteria. The proposal was rejected.



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