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The UN Human Rights Council: Five Things to Know

Speaker: Stewart M. Patrick, Senior Fellow and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program, Council on Foreign Relations
February 28, 2012

The UN Human Rights Council has taken an increasingly prominent role in pressing for global action on the Syrian crisis. This marks a continuing revival of the world's preeminent rights body, which replaced a discredited rights commission. CFR Senior Fellow Stewart M. Patrick looks at five chief things to know about the reconstituted forum:

  • In 2006, the United Nations decided to dissolve the UN Commission on Human Rights, "which had become a haven for human rights abusers and an embarrassment." The Obama administration chose to join the forty-seven-member council, "rather than allowing human rights violators and spoilers from Cuba to Pakistan to run roughshod over it."
  • Despite important improvements, the Council maintains some serious flaws, ranging from procedural roadblocks like membership criteria to political tensions between civil and political rights and economic rights.
  • Regardless of these flaws, the Council's new "universal periodic review" has been a powerful instrument for advancing human rights across the world, from Iran to Zimbabwe.
  • A little-known fact is the important addition of term limits to Council membership. This will force countries like Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia to "take a time-out from the Council" when their terms expire this year. Now the worst abusers cannot "fester on the Council."
  • Council membership has had some crucial payoffs for the United States, including exerting pressure on Iran and Syria, and taking the lead with the United States against the former Libyan regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi.

This video is part of The Internationalist, a series dedicated to in-depth discussions about leveraging multilateral cooperation to meet today's transnational challenges.


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