By Charlene Porter
The United States will serve a second three-year term on the U.N. Human Rights Council, elected by the members of the U.N. General Assembly in a November 12 vote.
The council is a 47-nation panel in the U.N. system responsible for strengthening and promoting human rights and for decrying violations when they occur.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton welcomed the re-election. “We pledge to continue to work closely with the international community to address urgent and serious human rights concerns worldwide and to strengthen the council,” she said.
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice said she also looks forward to a sustained U.S. presence on the council. The vote, she said, “affirms that active U.S. leadership in the Human Rights Council and throughout the United Nations system will continue to pay real dividends for Americans and for the rest of the world.”
The U.N. General Assembly created the Human Rights Council in 2006 to replace a similar body, the Commission on Human Rights, which was widely denounced for allowing the membership of nations with poor human rights records. Because of that history, the United States held back from membership in its first years, but sought election to the panel early in the Obama administration.
Rice said the United States has been proud to be part of “important progress” the council has made, specifically citing its position of condemning the atrocities in Syria and investigating alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya. She also praised the council’s defense of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, and the “progressive positions on defamation of religion.”
Rice also underscored what she characterized as “persistent shortcomings” of the council, notably “the council’s excessive and unbalanced focus on Israel.”
Clinton’s statement noted the council’s “disproportionate and biased focus on Israel.”
The other states elected to the council for three-year terms are Argentina, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Estonia, Ethiopia, Gabon, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Montenegro, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. Members must be elected by an absolute majority of 97 votes among the 193-member General Assembly.
Council seats are allocated among five regions to maintain an equitable geographical distribution. The council seats are distributed as follows: Africa, 13; Asia, 13; Eastern Europe, 6; Latin America and the Caribbean, 8; and Western Europe, the United States and others, 7.
Human rights groups charge that some of the new members have a tarnished record on human rights. Asked about those allegations during an appearance before reporters at the United Nations November 12, Rice said the practice of electing members from a competitive pool of states helps “in terms of ensuring that those worst abusers of human rights are not elected to the council.”
Rice also pointed out that the United States continues its own global activities to monitor human rights, country by country, and publishes those findings and concerns annually. The latest edition is the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, released in May 2012.
A fact sheet issued by the State Department November 12 provides a longer account of council accomplishments over the last three years, including support of a special rapporteur who is speaking out to defend citizens who have suffered human rights violations by the Iranian government, and the creation of an independent expert to pursue the commission of human rights violations in Côte d’Ivoire.
The 22nd regular session of the Human Rights Council will be held from February 25 to March 22, 2013, in Geneva.