from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

The UN Human Rights Council: Five Things to Know

February 29, 2012

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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The UN Human Rights Council has taken an increasingly prominent role in pressing for global action on the Syrian crisis. In the latest installment of the Internationalist Video Series, I explain how this furthers the revival of the world’s preeminent rights body, which replaced a discredited rights commission. Watch below for the five things you need to know about the reconstituted forum:

http://youtu.be/hnX-DTA50xM

Watch this video on youtube here.

  • 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.

 

 

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