Friday, February 24, 2006

Bolton and the Proposed UN Human Rights Council

The United Nations has released the text of its draft compromise on replacing the existing Human Rights Commission with a new Human Rights Council. Here are the key paragraphs:

OP7 ... the Human Rights Council shall consist of 47 Member States which shall be elected directly and individually by secret ballots by the majority of the members of the General Assembly. The membership shall be based on equitable geographic distribution and seats shall be distributed as follows among regional groups: Ahcan Group 13; Asian Group 13; Eastern European Group 6; GRULAC 8; WEOG 7. The members of the Council will serve for a period of three years and shall not be eligible for immediate re-election after two consecutive terms.

OP8 ... the membership in the Council shall be open to all Member States of the United Nations. When electing members of the Council, Member States shall take into account the candidates' contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto. The General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Human Rights Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.

0P9 Members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, fully cooperate with the Council, and be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during their term of membership.

OPlO The Council shall meet regularly throughout the year and schedule not fewer than three sessions per year, including a main session, for a total duration of no less than ten weeks, and shall be able to hold special sessions when needed at the request of a Member of the Council with the support of one-third of the membership of the Council.

Although the new Council would be substantially better than the existing Commission -- it would meet more often and require periodic review of members states' human-rights practices -- the draft compromise has one glaring weakness: it does not require a 2/3 majority of the General Assembly for election to the Council, leaving open the possibility that serial human-rights abusers could continue to be elected.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both support adopting the draft compromise, although they acknowledge its limitations. The U.S. is more disasstisifed-- and is threatening to re-open negotiations as a result. But as Scott Paul points out at Bolton Watch, the U.S. has only itself -- or, more precisely, its Ambassador, John Bolton -- to blame for the absence of the 2/3 majority requirement:

First, after Anne Patterson successfully included the 2/3 provision in the negotiating text for the September World Summit, Bolton blew the consensus apart by submitting 750 amendments to the text, many of them of questionable importance to U.S. foreign policy and also deeply offensive to developing countries.

Then, in December, Bolton proposed that the permanent five members of the Security Council should get permanent seats on the HRC. There were two problems with this idea. First, since that would mean China and Russia automatically get seats, it implied that the U.S.is more interested in membership for itself than credible standards in general. Second, no other countries supported the idea. Instead of working towards achievable U.S. goals, Bolton squandered a fair amount of political capital by pushing this non-starter.

In recent weeks, Bolton still did not lobby for the 2/3 provision. Instead, he promoted his own worthless and unachievable proposal: that countries under Security Council sanction would not be allowed to serve. Today, that would exclude a whopping two countries, Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire, from the HRC. Even in the closing days, a united front with Europe in support of the 2/3 majority would probably have been enough to see it through. Secretary Rice was doing her best to advance the 2/3 provision in capitals around the world, and a little support in New York would have gone a long way.

These three were Bolton’s publicly acknowledged gaffes during this process, but there were many subtle failures, too. For example, over the last three months of 2005, when negotiations after the Summit were really taking shape, Bolton rarely bothered to show up. Instead, he spent his time railing against the UN’s shortcomings in the press and on the Hill, leaving Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mark Lagon to hold down the fort. Lagon did well, but without high-level representation, the U.S. was seriously handicapped in the negotiations.

At this point, re-opening negotiations would most likely do more harm than good -- "death by 1,000 cuts," in the words of Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. So although the new Council would not be perfect, it may now be the best we can do. One thing is clear: the least acceptable option of all is a return to the status quo ante.

18 Comments:

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