U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Subcommittee on Multinational International Development,
Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy
Hearing on the United Nations Human Rights Council
MAY 25, 2017
SPEAKERS: SEN. TODD YOUNG, R-IND. CHAIRMAN
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY, D-ORE. RANKING MEMBER
WITNESSES: KRISTEN SILVERBERG, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE, INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION AFFAIRS
TOM MALINOWSKI, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE, DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR
HILLEL NEUER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UN WATCH, GENEVA , SWITZERLAND
TED PICCONE, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION
[*] YOUNG: Good afternoon. This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relation Subcommittee on multi-lateral international development, multi-lateral institutions and international economic energy and environmental policy will come to order. Today’s hearing represents our subcommittee second hearing of the year, of course I want to thank the Ranking Member Senator Merkley for joining me again to convene this hearing.
The purpose of today’s hearing is to assess the United Nation’s Human Rights Council. We’re joined by an impressive panel of witnesses this afternoon and I’d like to welcome them, the honorable Kristen Silverberg, who previously served as the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs. Welcome to you. The honorable Tom Malinowski, who previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Good day, sir. Mr. Hillel Neuer, who is Executive Director of UN Watch. I’ll not that Mr. Neuer traveled from Europe to testify today and I am very grateful for his willingness to be here. Thank you. And last, but certainly not least, we’re joined by Mr. Ted Piccone, he is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Thank you.
So, I welcome each of you and before beginning our assessment of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council perhaps it’s helpful to step back for a moment and assess the role that the promotion of human rights should play in our foreign policy. The declaration of independence declared that we hold these truces to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they are in debt by their creator with certain noble rights that among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While we know that our nation has spent much of our history, trying to narrow the gap between the self-evident truce and our daily reality, it’s noteworthy that our founders use the phrase all me. Today, we would expect they would say all men and women, but the point is that our founders didn’t suggest these inhaling of all rights were limited to just Americans. If we accept the fact that these rights aren’t reserved for Americans alone but instead universal rights then we have an obligation to ensure these universal human rights inform not only our domestic policy, but our foreign policy as well, yet promoting and protecting human rights internationally isn’t just a matter of principle or just a matter of morality, promoting and protecting universal human rights overseas also help secure American national security interest.
As Ambassador Haley has emphasized in her UN Security Council remarks most recently in April 18. The protection of human rights is offly deeply intertwined with peace and security. As she observes, human rights violations can often serve as the trigger for a conflict. As an example, Ambassador Haley cited the fact that the terrible Syrian conflict that has generated so many threats to American National Security not to mention heart wrenching human suffering started when the Assad regime failed to respect the universal human rights of a group of young boys opposed to the regime.
So, in short, both our principles and our interest, our values and our security are advanced when the promotion of universal human rights figures prominently, not peripherally in U.S. foreign policy. It’s both long and short sighted to believe that we can better protect our national security interest by ignoring or sidelining human rights. Perhaps that’s why the United Nations charter that our country played a pivotal role on establishing states clearly in article 1 that one of the four purposes of the UN is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.
American national security interest are best served when the United Nations effectively fulfills this core purpose. That’s why we want the UN Human Rights Council to effectively its responsibility of promoting universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.
So, as Ambassador Haley prepares to go to Geneva in June for the 35th rather regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, it is timely inappropriate to assess how the council is doing in the fulfillment of its mission and to ask why U.S. policy should be toward – what U.S. policy should be toward the council.
Well, I look forward to listening to the expert testimony of our esteemed witnesses, I’d like to make two quick and initial observations. First, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, Aaron Barkley said in Geneva in March regrettably too many of the actions of this council do not support those universal principles. Indeed, they contradict them. Perhaps this is not surprising. Some of the world’s worst human rights abusers are on the council. China and Cuba, I remember for example yet according to freedom house they have the worst or second to worst rankings possible for political rights and civil liberties.
Second, the council has exhibited a systematic reflexive and frankly shameful bias against Israel, our closest and most reliable ally in the Middle East. Israel is the only country in the world that is subjected to a permanent agenda item. When countries with the worst possible human rights records sit on the Human Rights Council, they seek to deflect attention from their egregious human rights abuses and attempt to pass judgment on Israel, a country that boast a vibrant liberal democracy. The credibility of the council is further undermined and the United States must not be silent.
America, I believe is at its best when it models and promotes respect for universal human rights. We should expect the same from the U.N. Human Rights Council and its members.
So, with those thoughts in mind, I would now like to call on our Ranking Member, Senator Merkley for his opening remarks. Senator Merkley.
MERKLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing and thank you to our distinguished guest for bringing your expertise here to the halls of the U.S. Senate. Promoting human rights is a longstanding bipartisan pillar of American foreign policy. Essential not only to our foreign policy but to who we are as Americans.
President Kennedy just months prior to his assassination affirm that our nation what was founded on the principle that all men are created equal and the rights of every manner diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.
President Reagan in the 1986 before the United Nations General Assembly said respect for human rights is not social work, it is not merely an act of compassion, it is the first obligation of government and the source of legitimacy and it is the foundation stone in any structure of world peace.
United States as you as United Nations as a platform to advance basic human rights since its inception. As the universal body, the United Nation holds great promise, but events in human rights and inter-governmental body with autocrats determined to hide and deflect their abuses has been difficult.
Soviet Union pushed hard against Eleanor Roosevelt at the original UN Commission on Human Rights, but she persevered. Her leadership led to the adoption of the universal declaration of human rights which in turn inspired like Valenza (ph), Nelson Mandela and other champions of freedom and human dignity.
United Nations Human Rights Council like its predecessor remains a troubling form for United States, its membership as Chairman pointed out includes countries with appalling human rights records, determined to shield some of the world’s worst human rights abusers from scrutiny. Its membership’s excessive and disproportionate focus on Israel is shameful and excusable and cheapens the body.
The Human Rights Council seems to work better however when America leads. Appalling human rights abusers in North Korea have been documented and added to the agenda the UN Security Council. The rights and dignity of LGBT individuals have been affirmed. Human rights abuses in Iran have been uncovered. Attempts to unfairly malign Israel have been countered.
Speaking to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Reagan said that document a triumph for the higher aspirations of mankind is but words on paper unless we’re willing to act to see that it has taken seriously and he continued, we owe it to ourselves and those who sacrifice so much for our liberty to keep America in the forefront of this battle.
I look forward to hearing our witnesses’ views on where the United Nations Human Rights Council is working, where it is falling short and how it can do better. And I look forward to hearing your views on how United States can continue to lead on human rights that the UN Human Rights Council and in other ways.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
YOUNG: I want to welcome our witnesses again, your full written statements will appear in the record, I ask you to summarize those statements in roughly minutes, about five minutes each if you can.
For opening statements let’s go in the order that I introduce you Ms. Silverberg.
SILVERBERG: Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Merkley thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to assess the record of the Human Rights Council. It’s an honor to appear with the distinguished experts joining me on this panel.
I served as Assistant Secretary of State from 2005 to 2008, including during the General Assembly debate over the resolution creating the Human Rights Council. When the resolution creating the council failed to meet our core objectives, we voted against the resolution and decided not to seek membership. He did not approach that decision lightly.
President Bush had made the promotion of democracy and human rights a core objective of U.S. policy. Consistent with that policy, he works to support inclusive government in Iraq and to defend the rights of women in Afghanistan. He worked to focus international attention, and sanctions when appropriate, on abusive regimes in Burma, Cuba, and Zimbabwe and to support civil society in countries like Venezuela, Egypt, and Bolivia.
President Bush was the first head of state to call the tragedy in Darfur a “genocide.” He put new resources behind the efforts to support democratic reforms, and he personally met with dissidents from 35 countries.
Engagement at the UN was a critical part of this strategy. We supported the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights. We had an active agenda in the 3rd Committee of the General Assembly. We supported efforts to include human rights-related issues on the agenda of the Security Council, joined the link between peace and security and human rights just as Ambassador Haley had and added Burma to the agenda for the first time. And we worked through the Security Council to support democracy in Lebanon and to expand UN peacekeeping operations.
There was no question in my mind that, as part of this effort, we would benefit from a new, credible, multilateral institution capable of supporting countries attempting to reform and of responding decisively to violations of human rights. It was also clear to me that the UN Human Rights Council as constituted in 2006 would not be that institution. There were number of issues, but most particularly UN negotiators and the General Assembly rejected proposals to ensure a credible membership. There were a number of ways to help ensure that countries joining the Council had a good faith commitment to advancing and defending human rights, a supermajority requirement, a ban on regional consensus candidates, even a provision to bar some of the worst human rights offenders from membership. The negotiators rejected all of them.
The potential for the Human Rights Council was further undermined when, at the end of the Council’s first year, a few members decided to adopt – in the dark of night – a permanent agenda item on Israel and then to deny Canada, a member of the Council, its procedural right to vote against the decision. The adoption of Item 7 has been a stain on the Council ever since. And I’ll point out that item 7 was originally adopted in 2007 when the Bush Administration was not participating in the Council, but was reaffirmed in 2011 when the Obama Administration was a member.
The Council has done good work to be clear on issues like North Korea and Burma. However, the Human Rights Council runs on horse trading. When the U.S. is running an initiative in the Council, it typically ends up compromising on something else, and that something else is too often our support for Israel. So where does that leave the Trump Administration in light of the 2016 election of the U.S. to the Human Rights Council?
Even the most skilled effort at renegotiating terms for the Human Rights Council will be challenging, but I believe the Trump Administration should try, with a date certain to assess whether progress has been made and whether the Human Rights Council can serve as a credible and vigorous voice on human rights. Failing key progress, I believe the Administration should leave. There are a number of reform targets the Administration should consider; I’ll raise just a couple examples:
One is during the fall General Assembly session; the Administration should put forward an amendment to the Institution Building package to remove Item 7 from the Council’s agenda and expect we could talk more about that.
Second, the U.S. could secure agreements from regions not to run consensus candidates, to give the General Assembly choices in electing Human Rights Council members.
And third, and this relates to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I believe that the United States should ask to put senior Americans and key posts and particularly to try to fill the Office of the Chief of the Human Rights Council branch.
Whatever decision that Trump Administration makes on this issue, I hope it will find ways to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to serving as the world’s leading defender of freedom and human rights.
I applaud the Subcommittee for its focus on this issue and look forward to your questions.
YOUNG: Thank you, Ms. Silverberg. Mr. Malinowski.
MALINOWSKI: Thank you, Senator Young, Senator Merkley for holding this hearing and for inviting me to testify.
I will argue today that the UN Human Rights Council is a highly imperfect institution that has nonetheless improved under American leadership. It is more useful than it might at first appear, and we have become increasingly good at advancing our interests and ideals there. Rather than ceding this battle space to our adversaries, we should continue to fight to make it better. We should focus relentlessly and pragmatically on winning, and not withdrawing.
In saying that, I will acknowledge that much of the criticism of the Council over the years has been justified, including all of the items that you Ms. Silverberg mentioned, the membership of the Council, the presence of human rights violators among its members, the outrageous bias against Israel that it has displayed.
But I’ve noticed something else over the years, which has made me less skeptical and increasingly convinced that the Council is an important institution. I’ve noticed that our ideological adversaries take a great interest in countries like Cuba and China and Russia and Egypt and Pakistan, they dedicate enormous diplomatic resources to try to influence this body’s decisions. Why is that, especially given the fact that all it can do is issue paper resolutions that has no power to compel anybody. I think reason is that at bottom, the fight for human rights is a contest of ideas. We hold and others hold the idea that you eloquently stated that human rights are universal that every country has a duty to uphold them. That idea is profoundly threatening to authoritarian governments around the world, because it threatens their legitimacy.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that when the U.S. Congress passes paper resolutions condemning some country from human rights abuses, it doesn’t get a lot of attention here, but huge attention in those countries and you are lobbied very hard by the representatives not to do it. Those resolutions only speak for the United States, when this body speaks, it speaks for the whole world, that’s a very, very powerful thing. This is why every session of the Human Rights Council courageous human rights activists from all around the world, sometimes at great personal risk travel there to testify and it’s why the bad guys try so hard to silence. And I think it’s important to them all to be important to us to stand with the good guys and to try to help them win these battles in Geneva. And I think where we have dedicated the time and the diplomatic resources to do that, we have been pretty successful.
Since 2009, I would say we have one virtually every winnable fight that we have put our minds to winning at the Human Rights Council, it’s not good enough yet that we have shown that we can win.
In 2006, in its first year in existence when the United States was not a member, the Human Rights Council passed exactly zero resolutions concerning human rights in specific countries, other than Israel. Since we rejoined in 2009, the situation has changed dramatically and in 2015, it passed 26 such resolutions, 22 in 2016. Some of them have been mentioned, the establishment of the historic Commission of Inquiry for North Korea, the condemnations of Iran, South Sudan. The votes we have won on Syria which Russia fought really, really hard to defeat and we won those fights. On Ukraine, the same thing. Sri Lanka, I was involved as a diplomat and trying to promote the democratic transition that is underway in Sri Lanka, away from civil war, dictatorship and I can attest that the resolution passed by the Council were absolutely critical in helping along that diplomatic process, many, many other examples we can cite and I think these are real American diplomatic achievements. which I can attest from my own diplomatic experience have played a
Now, the membership remains a problem particularly because of the system of closed slates that some regions run, but where there have been competitive elections recently, the worst human rights violators have in some cases done pretty badly, most dramatically last year Russia ran for membership and everyone assume they’re permanent member of the Security Council, permanent members by tradition, always get what they want in the UN system. Russia lost because of its horrible horrific conduct in Syria. That was a stunning triumph I think.
With respect to Israel, the situation I would say remains unacceptable, but I think we have made some modest progress through – our presence. In the early years of the council virtually every resolution that it passed was on Israel, that share is now way, way down. There were – I think about six special sessions on Israel on the years where we weren’t a member, only one in the years when we have been.
The progress that we still need to make on that issue. I would make, I think this point. We need to focus on who is actually to blame and who is to blame is not this institution which has no will of its own, but the member countries who are pushing these anti-Israel institutions.
Now, who are they? Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirate, close US partners, they get a lot of assistance from the United States and yet we never seem to hold them accountable for their behavior in Geneva. We criticize the council but not the member states that are responsible.
Can we make the situation better by threatening to leave? Well, if we found ourselves in a situation where we could no longer get anything useful done at the Human Rights Council, I’d say sure, let’s leave. But I don’t think threatening to leave gives us any leverage for this simple reason. The countries that are responsible from those to the mid drift in Geneva want us to leave. So, threatening to leave it would be kind of like telling a bunch of criminals that if you keep robbing banks, the police are going to go on strike. I’d rather have the police there well-resourced on duty fighting and focusing on winning.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
YOUNG: Thank you, sir. Mr. Neuer.
NEUER: Chairman Young, Ranking Member Merkley, thank you for inviting me to testify on the important matter of assessing the United Nations Human Rights Council, ahead of the visit of Ambassador Haley to Geneva and indeed we will welcome her visit very much.
I believe that that U.S. should remain on the Council not because this body is upholding its mission to promote and protect human rights, but on the contrary because the Human Rights Council is a dangerous place. And I believe for America to promote its values and founding values of the United Nations, America should remain, it should fight, it should go on the record, it should lead its allies, it should call out abuses. And this is a body whether we like it or not that influences the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people. And we should not abandon that arena.
And if possible on those rare occasions when an alliance can be found spotlight abusers, America should lead that effort. That’s concerning values. There is also interests, America has interests to stay on the Council, it is an influential arena, there is a reason why countries around the world vie to win a seat. America has a seat and I think it would be foolish to give up that position of influence.
On human rights, the United States has to lead by what it says and what it does and that’s why I criticize the President when he called certain media institutions the enemy, when he did so I happen to be next to Chan Dundar (ph), a Turkish journalist who was called the enemy by his President and soon after he was shot at and almost killed in Turkey. We honored him recently in Geneva. America has to lead on human rights.
Of course, when we talk about the media, it is legitimate to question and criticize certain articles that appear in the media, one which I will challenge today is an article that appeared in March of this year in the New York Times by their UN correspondent which expressed extraordinary skepticism concerning Ambassador Haley when she said that the Human Rights Council was so corrupt and I quote from the article, she dismissed the Human Rights Council is so corrupt without offering evidence and that’s skepticism remained in the article.
So, yes, the Human Rights Council has taken action on a number of cases, North Korea is one of them. Yes, there are many good people who work in the related Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which supports the work of the Council and there are good, special rapporteur who are independent experts who do good work to spotlight abuses. But on so many levels, Human Rights Council is so corrupt and Head of Ambassador Haley’s visit allow me to present some of that evidence.
There is corruption that is financial. One gentlemen, the longest serving UN human rights expert in Geneva is Jon Zeigler (ph) who has been there for about 17 years, you can’t get rid of the guy, he was special rapporteur on hunger and now he is on their Advisory Committee. He was recently celebrated by the Human Rights Council at their opening high-level session. There was a film made about his life where the Head of the Human Rights Council branch, the Chief of the HRC branch of the Office of High Commissioner went to sing his praises.
Jon Ziegler (ph) is someone who is appointed by the Cubans around the year 2000. He created the Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize in 1989. He went on to manage that prize from Geneva. He boasted about it in Time magazine saying that he has $10 million from the Gaddafi government to manage this prize which they gave to Chavez, Castro, Louis Farrakhan and a holocaust denier in the year 2002, in the same year that Jon Ziegler (ph) himself as a UN expert went to Libya and won that prize which by the way came with $100,000 per year.
He recently he denied it for 10 years when we exposed the video of him receiving the prize, he admitted it, said the Office of the High Commissioner made him give back the prize, but the money no one has ever investigated what he did with that money, not surprisingly Ziegler (ph) was an ardent advocate opposing sanctions on the Gaddafi regime while he was implicated in ties with that regime.
The official of the Human Rights Council who praise Ziegler (ph) recently, senior head of the HRC branch was himself, recently accused by a member of his own office of having received money from a member of the Arab league to help launch his book.
There is also corruption that is ethical when Richard Falk (ph) who was the special rapporteur on Palestine for six years, someone who is a leading supporter of the 9/11 conspiracy theory when he finally had to leave because of term limits, the day he left his wife came in, Hillel Elver (ph) as the new special rapporteur on hunger. She is not only his wife but a co-collaborator with him on his works and has accused Israel of water apartheid. She is the expert on hunger yet Venezuela where people are starving, she has completely ignored on the contrary, she has tweeted Maduro (ph) propaganda saying that the problems of starvation are caused by capitalist and people from the outside.
There is corruption on the commissions of inquiry. The head of the recent commission of inquiry on Gaza was a man named William Chavis (ph) who was an anti-Israel campaigner for 30 years said that his dream defendant was Benjamin Netanyahu and he was made the chief of this investigation.
Today, we released a legal brief which we submitted to the UN Secretary General where we exposed the fact that one of the leading staffers on the Goldstone Commission which is relevant because it will be cited in a new report coming out in a matter of days at the upcoming June session. A lead staffer was a woman named Gisha (ph) who heard too, she too was a senior organizer of anti-Israel legal campaign, she was one of the professional objective staffers who played a critical part from gathering that report.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, the Human Rights Council was founded on the promise of reform now over a decade later, we look across the board the actions that are positive are in the small minority and the actions that are hostile to human rights that single out democracies like Israel are in the majority. I believe America should stay and fight those injustices.
Thank you very much.
YOUNG: Thank you, Mr. Neuer. To reinforce something, Mr. Malinowski said I have no doubts that authoritarian regimes in the broader international community will pay some measure of attention to some of the words that are said here today, so thank you much. Mr. Piccone.
PICCONE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Senator Merkley for this opportunity to share my thoughts on why the United States should stay actively engaged with the UN Human Rights Council. Let me start by underscoring what the Council is and does. It’s a political body composed of governments elected by the UN General Assembly and issues resolutions on country situations or thematic topics like torture or freedom of religion.
But it also authorizes independent experts and fact-finding bodies to conduct country visits to monitor, investigate and report publicly on specifically violations of human rights in some of the most dire situations in the world from North Korea and Iran to South Sudan and Korea (ph). And when these actions are taken by consensus or even a majority of such a diverse group of countries that sit on the Council then I think we’re seeing an effective body, more affected than what if he could do it by ourselves.
The Council’s activities mean a lot to human rights victims and they shine a light on abuses and create a historical record. But they also put pressure on member states to remedy these violations. I have documented hundreds of cases in which this has occurred. We should also keep in mind that the Council is the one part of the UN system that tries to mainstream human rights across the UN and at this entire human rights pillar accounts for only 3% of the UN regular budget. So really, we’re trying to do human rights on the cheap and we need to start matching expectations with resources.
Areas of progress, let me highlight for universal periodic review is a new council mechanism that for the first time examine to human rights record of every country in the world, it is remarkable 100% rate of participation underscoring the universality of international human rights principles. This means that governments too often have escaped any UN scrutiny for political reason now receive public questioning and recommendations and the five governments have received the most recommendations are among the most repressive in the world. Cuba, Iran, Egypt, North Korea and Vietnam. Many of these governments have accepted hundreds of these recommendations for reform and now the work is to follow-up and implement them.
Second, country-specific scrutiny in addition to universal review, the Council has dramatically increased the number of independent experts and fact-finding missions to examine abuses in these specific countries, some of which I have already mentioned. Since creation of the Council, the number of country specific reports by these independent experts has increased by 104%.
Third, commissions of inquiry increasingly establishing special expert bodies to investigate the worst violations of human rights including crimes against humanity. Since 2011 alone, the Council has created 17 of such commissions including Libya, Syria and North Korea and there were documents violations and their victims quickly before the evidences destroyed or witnesses lost. And we’ve talked about North Korea, we can talk about it some more about what has accomplished.
And then fourth, I think area progress is on access to civil society. The Human Rights Council is known as one of the most open and accessible bodies in the UN structure, NGOs are actively involved and special rapporteurs reached out to them when they visit countries on the ground.
Now, we’ve also talked about some shortcomings and membership is clearly one of them. There is criteria for candidates for elections and for sitting on the Council and they are not working to prevent some of the worst violators from getting a seat on the body. The clean slate’s problem, we’ve talked about, but we know that when slates are competitive, the General Assembly has voted to deny seat to some of the worst human rights performers including Russia which was mentioned previously.
I can further talk about some of the steps that can be taken to address this membership problem. On Israel another major shortcoming, we’ve all – I think can agree that the treatment of Israel is patently biased and unfair. I would suggest that this is maybe an opportunity for the Trump Administration to work with other like-minded states including in the Arab world and the High Commissioner of Human Rights to broke an agreement to eliminate the permanent agenda item on Israel and reduce the number of resolutions to one, omnibus resolution
And I would not argue in favor of conditioning U.S. membership on the Council, I think it’s too blunt a tool. Another area that needs attention is protecting human rights defenders from reprisals and the Council I think should be very strict when their cases of reprisals against those that are cooperating with the Council that they’d be call out on it and even disqualify from membership and the UN – the U.S. has a role to play in pushing that.
On U.S. leadership on the body, we know what the Council can do with and without U.S. leadership, we saw it in 2006 to 2009 when the U.S. was absent from the Council, they adopted the Israel OPT as a permanent agenda item convened many special sessions and other things. It passed a shameful resolution on Sri Lanka before that problem got fixed under U.S. leadership and terminated mandates on Cuba and Belarus.
After the U.S. joined the disproportionate attention on Israel dropped significantly and then the scrutiny on dire cases like North Korea, Syria and Iran increased dramatically. There are several other things that U.S. I think managed to achieve during its time on the Council. I mentioned some of them, including on North Korea and Syria and also on important thematic topics like freedom of association, preventing violence based on sexual orientation and condemning governments that block access to the internet.
Finally, let me jump to my final comments. United States I think faces a clear choice, engage proactively as a principle catalyst or withdraw and led authoritarian’s states manipulate in control the agenda and they are ready and willing to do so as others have pointed out.
I think basically protecting human rights is too important to our national interest to be left to the spoilers and the naysayers. And I think we in particular have a special role to play and to lead effectively. We must practice what we preach abroad. I think Congress now more than ever is so important to demonstrate to the world that our longstanding commitment to protecting human rights is deep and bipartisan.
YOUNG: Thank you, Mr. Piccone. There is a lot of agreement across the panelist with respect to your assessment of the Human Rights Council, and they’re too particularly salient areas as I see it and my initial questions will address each of them, first is anti- Israel bias and secondarily, council membership. Each of you just indicated in your statements that there was an anti-Israel bias at the UN Human Rights Council. When you consider the horrendous human rights track records, many of the members of the council, I have mentioned China, Cuba, also Venezuela, it’s a real indictment of the Council that is real, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East is the only country in the world targeted with a permanent agenda item.
We consider human rights atrocities committed by Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang, and the Assad regime to name just a few. The fact that the Council was targeted Israel with more than half of its resolutions criticizing country since 2006 without putting to find a point on it is shameful. Mr. Silverberg, you’ve called the anti-Israel bias a stain on the Council. Mr. Malinowski, you called it outrageous, Mr. Piccone you called it biased, unfair and hypocritical, Mr. Neuer you suggest the Council’s obsession with Israel best highlight the chasm between the promise versus the performance of the Council.
So, we have consensus here that this is unacceptable based on that consensus, here is the open-ended question for all of you. What’s specific steps can our government take working with our international partners to get Israel removed from the permanent agenda of the Council and I will begin with Mr. Piccone, because I think you actually proposed reducing the number of agenda items to one, perhaps you could restate that proposal and expand a bit upon it and then I’ll give others an opportunity to respond.
PICCONE: Sure, each March there are number of resolutions on the docket of the Human Rights Council agenda that focus on Israel. And I think this is obviously excessive, they’re highly repetitive and there are way out of proportion to anything else. So, I think one way of addressing this is number one get rid of agenda item 7 and put it under what’s called item number 4 which is where a lot of other country-specific situations are handled. So, Israel should be treated like any other country in the world. That is the fundamental principle that we’re aiming for.
And then you could you know say, OK, we have a certain number of concerns and here they are being addressed in one resolution, but it’s a political issue and so it’s got to require U.S. leadership or with Arab countries specifically to sit down and figure out how this can be negotiated.
YOUNG: Mr. Neuer.
NEUER: The question of the special agenda item against Israel actually gets back about 50 years, in fact a few are aware that the – effectively the precursor to the special agenda item against Israel began before there was even a universal agenda item for other countries, it was only after the special attention on Israel and couple of other countries when eventually was expanded to be a universal agenda item separate from the one on Israel.
So, we’re really going back to a problem that is 50 years. The architect of the universal declaration of human rights (inaudible) from France walked out of the Tehran human rights conference of 1968 when they began this single note of Israel and it really hasn’t gone away and with the Human Rights Council promised it would change that that was the promise of Kofi Annan, they specifically sighted the agenda item targeting Israel that plagued the old commission. They promise that the new Council would have clean slate and it would be universal in its treatment of human rights situations.
And of course, that was not the case in June 2007 and I was there. They shamefully adopted once again the special agenda item against Israel. It would be extremely difficult to remove it given the current majority that exists. There is an automatic majority at the Human Rights Council of about 25 to 30 out of 47 states that will support any measure singling out Israel and for them the agenda item is a vital part of their agenda.
So, I think it’ll be extremely difficult. Nevertheless, United States needs to go on the record and try to specific it.
YOUNG: Mr. Malinowski?
MALINOWSKI: Thanks. I think the goal should be to get rid of the standalone agenda item first and foremost, that’s the most outrageous piece of this. I think the politics has gotten better for us although I certainly agree we don’t have the votes right now, just to give you an example when this was created in 2007 at the beginning of this version of the Human Rights Council. Only Canada stood up to object, we were not members so we could – today, virtually every western country joins us in boycotting the session when they come up on to item 7, we still don’t have the majority that we need.
The key I think because I suggested in my testimony and this is not a Geneva issue, this is not a Human Rights Council issues, this is an issue that relates to specific countries in the Middle East that lead the charge and keeping this on the agenda and proposing these resolutions. And we are very, very upset about and we make speeches about it, and we go to Geneva and we yell and scream, but frankly we almost never raise it in a bilateral context with our allies in the Middle East, I think I agree with Mr. Piccone, we have an opportunity now with the new administration, I doubt it came up in these meetings in Saudi Arabia, that just happened but they have an opportunity if they want to persuade our allies as part of the broader Middle East push this underway to make this concession.
YOUNG: Anything to add, Ms. Silverberg.
SILVERBERG: So, I’ll just say, I have great respect for Tom’s ability as a diplomat, and so if he tells me that the Obama Administration won all of the winnable fights in Geneva, I believe him. But I think the Trump Administration has to try, one is Ted and Tom pointed out, the Trump Administration has invested in a different set of relationships that has a different set of leverage and as they pointed out, I think they need to try to make use of them. Tom is absolutely right that the United States has been too reluctant to put you on issues in the middle of our bilateral relationships, the late Ambassador Holbrooke used to say that blaming the United Nations for a problem in New York was like blaming Madison Square Garden for a portion by the necks, and there is a fair amount of truth in that that the problems. The real problems and UN capitals are almost always the result of member state behavior rather than there are certainly issues when the institution itself, but its member states really who are driving these.
So, my own view is they should make a try, they should make it an issue in our bilateral relationships. I would do it through a one line resolution in New York as part of the General Assembly and try to build a consensus between sort of support with the Arab group and also support for the countries for Europe who want the U.S. to stay engaged in the Council.
YOUNG: Thank you all. Senator Merkley.
MERKLEY: I want to continue for a moment, the conversation over the permanent agenda item and I have the list of the membership here. I am wondering if the President’s trip to the Middle East and the alliance of interest that exist now between a number of Sunni nations and Israel in regard to some well, Iran specifically may create an opening four ending agenda item 7, do you think that’s – is there an opening right now? Yes.
PICCONE: I think it should be tried and it should be explored, I am skeptical. Some of the regimes, the governments that you contemplated are indeed, to indeed have on the ground alliance of interest with Israel certainly Egypt for example is cooperating with Israel very substantially on the ground.
However, the moment you come to the United Nations arena you get completely removed from what’s happening on the ground and sometimes you even see the opposite, you see governments that for their own strategic reasons may want to cooperate with Israel, but having yet built up legitimacy for that position among their people and so United Nations, they often – they will often do the opposite and actually aggravate anti-Israel positions.
So, I’m skeptical that the opening you are seeing on the ground will translate to United Nations but nevertheless I think it should be explored.
MERKLEY: And so, this concept that the U.S. should at least explore or perhaps make a motion, carry a vote, carry a discussion, but all of you support the United States putting that up.
MALINOWSKI: Yes, I think it’s testable proposition that hasn’t been tested. I wouldn’t make the notion without doing the diplomatic groundwork of course. But I think if the Trump Administration is indeed serious in its aim of resetting relationships with our Gulf partners, with Egypt, I had concerns about that for other reasons, but if that’s their intention, this should be one of the dividends of their approach.
MERKLEY: Mr. Malinowski, I think you mentioned that we don’t raise it often in bilateral discussions and that I guess that piece does surprise me and because those discussions are often private and it’s a chance to weigh in on something that we care a lot about and I believe ambassador, in your remarks, you encouraged us to carry on such advocacy.
SILVERBERG: I think as you know the state department provides an annual report to Congress on how other countries vote with us in the United Nations and I think that’s a real opportunity to start to put some of those issues not just in Geneva, but across the UN system to start to put them into the bilateral relationship. It sometimes the case, the countries are antagonist in New York not despite the fact that they’re U.S. partners that sort of because of the fact that they’re U.S. partners, they use – they can test us in New York to make up for the fact that they’re working with us in other ways as a way to sort of appease their publics and I think we need to really raise the cost of doing that.
It’s very difficult when you’re at the state department in an international organization or human rights function and you raise this issue, you will sometimes hear from the region of Europe what we have list of 17 other priorities for Egypt and we can’t possibly raise that issue. But the cost of that is that the countries who opposed the U.S. and New York and Geneva continue to do that without any real penalty.
MERKLEY: Thank you, Mr. Piccone. I want to turn to your note that we now have a lot of commissions of inquiry that we didn’t have before and you mentioned 17 such commissions that was over what timeframe? PICCONE: That was since 2011.
MERKLEY: And that’s a team that goes out and researches on the ground in the relevant nations?
PICCONE: Yes, it’s usually a team of three high level experts, sometimes it is the special rapporteur who has already been appointed to that country for example on the case of North Korea and then supplemented by two others and then there is a quick action staffing component that OHCR puts together and they begin the process of getting – trying to get access to the country when they cannot get access to the country, they begin collecting testimonies from people outside the country. In some case, they’ve been able to use video link ups to reach witness and they’ve also used satellite imagery in the case of North Korea to actually see what was going in some of the camps and then bring that out to the world.
And as you know in North Korea case, it has led to really important action in terms of bringing this human rights issue to the security council agenda, so directly making the length that Ambassador Haley has made between human rights and international peace and security.
MERKLEY: Have we seen any of the recommendations in these.
PICCONE: Yes, they do.
MERKLEY: Have we seen countries that have adopted those recommendations and have said, you know you’re right, let’s change some of these things and improve our international standing.
PICCONE: Many of these commissions are contested by the subject state and they are not willing to cooperate with them. Nonetheless, they go forward as best they can to at least document what’s going on in the country and so, that provides a public record eventually for some kind of criminal accountability in the case Syria, the commission supplemented by additional experts that have recently appointed by the UN General Assembly are putting together a list of names that are on lock and key at the – in Geneva, that will be used in Hague hopefully one day to hold those people accountable.
MERKLEY: So, it may hold people accountable, but I guess I’m also wondering if before that data as such possible accountability rights that have actually changed the practices as it helped persuade some of these countries change in practices. Mr. Malinowski.
MALINOWSKI: In just picking up on your exchange with Mr. Piccone and in my diplomatic career, I’ve hardly ever had a witness breaking down on a witness stand moment where governments has you know you’re right. We’re doing wrong, we’ll take all your recommendations into account. But what I found is that when there is active scrutiny of a country’s behavior that’s scrutiny in fact can and does in many cases create a deterrent.
I think the biggest test of this was the North Korea commission like if there is one country in the world where you would expect there would be zero impact on a government’s behavior, so it’s the toughest test and yet, I have spoken to defectors from North Korea including people who have been in the camps who have told me that when there is greater international attention to the human rights situation in our country or former country including this commission, the treatment of prisoners in the labor camps improved.
So, it can work even – and it’s a modest factor in North Korea, but even if it can work in that kind of setting where one hopes that camp commanders are thinking you know darn my name appeared in this report, it may not be good for me in the future of Korea’s were unified. Then I think it can work just about anywhere and I think Burundi and another case I picked up on a similar dynamic.
MERKLEY: Thank you.
YOUNG: Before I ask you question about membership, which I know is something of interest to each of you, I’d like to pick up on a remark made by Mr. Neuer and a similar remark by Ms. Silverberg pertaining to this dynamic of countries that are improving the relations, Sunni countries, GCC countries, improving their relationship with the state of Israel.
So, and yet they will very publicly at the Human Rights Council exhibit an anti-Israel bias for the people back home. Mr. Neuer, I have got a couple of thoughts and perhaps you can clarify, one is we can change the calculus as Ms. Silverberg has suggested, change the calculus of these countries by not and encouraging them not to exhibit that bias by increasing the cost of exhibiting the bias, right.
Another concern though is if you aggravate that relationship which is improving, you don’t allow them to publicly vent, will you undermine that improving relationship, perhaps you could speak to that and Ms. Silverberg, you could expand on your position.
NEUER: I think the experts will have to consider on a case-by- case basis, what the relationship is with each country and when…
YOUNG: Take Saudi Arabia.
NEUER: Yes, so Saudi Arabia is an example and actually today it’s not the Human Rights Council, but a lot of the things that happened at the United Nations happened across the board. Today, in Geneva, the World Health Organization just met for its annual assembly and they just voted to single out one country in the world for health conditions and that’s Israel, its treatment of Palestinians and the Jews in the Golan Heights who live exceptionally well. So, the resolution was absurd. The co-sponsors included not only Syria, co- sponsor the resolution and Palestinians, but also Saudi Arabia and other Sunni countries like Kuwait. So, that’s just an example today where even as President Trump flew from Saudi to Israel and that were reports in the press that Saudi Arabia would be open to allowing overflights and other changes and improvements in their relationship with Israel and it’s been reported that there are private dealings with Israel.
They clearly have no problem with what’s going on with these things. I think it should be tried, I am not worried that it would hurt the relationship. I think it should be tried.
YOUNG: OK. So, we will soon be considering here in the United States Senate, whether or not to offer certain precision guided weapons to the Saudis to carry on their fight in Yemen. This could conceivably be a precondition for that that certainly would be leveraged one would think, would that be a bridge too far or something you need to reflect more on. I’ll put you on the spot.
NEUER: I would not want to go specific on which measures should be held as preconditions, there are many things which the United States wants the Saudis to do and to not do women’s rights is one example as you know Saudi Arabia was just elected to the Women’s Rights Commission of the United Nations something that we exposed. That’s also a very important matter and how they treat women.
So, I think across the board, these things will need to be looked at.
YOUNG: Ms. Silverberg, do you want to increase the cost, change the calculus.
SILVERBERG: There are lot of equities in our relationship with every one of these countries and I wouldn’t suggest that this has to be top of the list. I don’t think it has to be actually, it’s been a very low cost to request to these guys that they basically do their venting in a place where we don’t pay the cost. So, right now the fact that they are putting us in this uncomfortable position in Geneva is what’s raising this question about our continued ability to use the council to pursue our human rights agenda.
It’s the same thing with the security council. When I was Assistant Secretary, all of – every veto instruction I had to issue had was on and Israel related resolution which was advanced principally by a key U.S. partner. So, they put the United States in the position in an uncomfortable position as a way of you know we paid the cost for that. And so, I think it would be enough actually for the Trump Administration to say, this is a priority, we’re watching and we’d like you to take the venting elsewhere.
YOUNG: Thank you. With respect to membership more than half of the countries on the Council are designated by freedom house and their 2017 freedom in the World Report is either not free or partly free. I ask all of you what can and should the United States for international partner specifically do to keep the world’s worst human rights abusers off the Council. You might address in your answers how we can increase the frequency of suspensions for countries that fail to respect human rights and whether it would be helpful to end the use of closed slates which Mr. Malinowski suggest denies UN members the ability to vote for the best candidates and against the worst.
MALINOWSKI: Well, I’ll start with the closed slates problem and you know how this work, the elections, all members of the UN can vote, but the slates are selected by the regional groupings. And so, if Africa gets four seats, if they nominate four members then there is no choice, those four will go through however popular or unpopular they are. Last year, the Eastern Europe group did the right thing and nominated more than the number of allotted seats that they had and Russia lost. It is really, really big deal.
I would add that one of the regional groupings that doesn’t do the right thing and that maintains a closed slate is our own. So, we are – we have to be willing if we believe in this to run ourselves on an open slate to subject ourselves, to – the judgment of the members and that sometimes uncomfortable for the state department. We’d rather be assured of victory ourselves even as we want the right to vote on others.
But I think this is the key reform that would make a big difference.
YOUNG: Mr. Piccone.
PICCONE: Yes, I would in addition add a couple of things. I mean it really requires an effort with other like-minded states to recruit others that we think will be on the right side on these to run. And for a lot of low income or small island states, they don’t have the resources to manage a mission in Geneva. And there is a technical assistance fund to support them. So, let’s continue to support that, it’s made a difference. We’ve had Sierra Leone, a small very poor country that join the Council and we worked very effectively with them to break up that Africa block on some key votes.
We also need to use the annual election process to really embarrass the worst country states and I think you can go further and when you do have a closed slate you can still deny a state by making sure they don’t get the 97 minimum votes that you can get on the Council.
So, it’s hard but why not go for that kind of goal.
YOUNG: I interject, what would that look like to embarrass a candidate country in the course of an election?
PICCONE: Sure. I think you convene public sessions on the margins of the UN General Assembly around election time and you call on Office of the High Commissioner to give a report on whether the state is cooperating with the Council, have they invited country visits people. You then have human rights activist come and give a report on how they’re actually performing on the ground and there are criteria that are adopted by all the member states about how to elect candidates and you just use the criteria that they’ve agreed to.
I think well, those are my main recommendations on that.
YOUNG: Anyone else. It’s quite helpful. Mr. Neuer.
NEUER: Yes, I think this is vital issue UN Watch has since the beginning of the Council have been leading the opposition each year to the election of dictators, we’ve brought the most famous human rights victims to the United Nations in New York to argue against the election of China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and sadly, we’re just really handful of exceptions, they always get re-elected, so how do we fix that, I think two things need to happen, one is serious diplomatic heavy lifting by U.S. State Department together with its allies.
To-date we have not seen that in my opinion, but we saw Russia losing, so I assume that some work had happened behind the scenes, but otherwise in the past decade we seem very little of it.
YOUNG: Why do you believe that is very quickly, I mean you know it is not as though our Congress, our government is not a friend of Israel, we are a friend of Israel, close allies, so what do you think that’s been the case.
NEUER: Well, if we look at Saudi Arabia for example being elected, the U.S. obviously is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, China being elected, the U.S. may fear to take on China and you go across the board, I’ll defer to those who served government to respond. But I do want to say one thing. We could not get United States or the European Union to say a word, forget about what they were doing or not doing behind the scenes, but to go on the record and say that Cuba, China, Venezuela shouldn’t be elected, I couldn’t get them to go on the record, maybe really handful of cases when Iran and Syria were running and we expose that then they made a statement, but otherwise they’ve been completely silent.
MALINOWSKI: Right or wrong, we’ve had a policy and I am not sure you had it in the Bush Administration, but I think it’s been a fairly consistent policy of not publicly announcing or votes in the UN for members of various bodies, because once you do that then you get into offers of horse trading and negotiations and we’d rather sort of stay above the fray.
So, we will say that we have the policy of voting against human rights violators for the Human Rights Council and you know what that means, obviously we’re not going to vote for Cuba or Russia or China. We had an active policy and I am sure you did in the Bush Administration of trying to recruit good candidates and urging our partners around the world to vote against the bad candidates behind the scenes, but again for better or worse, different views on this, we didn’t announce our preferences publicly.
SILVERBERG: We did generally have that policy. We made a couple of exceptions. One, when Venezuela saw a security council seat, we recruited a country to run against them and then we’re in a very public campaign to try to keep them off the Council. In my view, this issue of closely – it’s a regional consensus candidates that go to some of the core UN dysfunction, it’s an issue not just with the Human Rights Council but really across the board at the UN, it’s the role of the regional groups and if the state department can figure out how to crack that nut, it will really, I think have enormous positive implications across the system.
YOUNG: Thank you. I have so many more questions, but I will be passing it to Senator Merkley and note that we will be concluding in 20 minutes, Senator Merkley. MERKLEY: No, I’m fascinated that there hasn’t been a rule strategy to solve this whether the rule might be that each region must nominate twice as many countries as there are slots so create something competitive or that there has to be a certain standard in an international report to serve on the Human Rights Council. Have we attempted some strategies to change the kind of internal dynamics that you all are describing either behind the scenes or as an actual proposed rule change?
SILVERBERG: We made the proposal as part of the original negotiations over the Human Rights Council, we made the proposal that countries be required to run more than one candidate per seat. As Tom said, one of the real issues with this is that the western group to which we belong likes to use consensus candidates that no country likes to put itself forward for election and then lose. This was if particularly in line for the United States during the negotiations because we have lost a race for the commission on human rights and so that was in the back of everyone’s minds and my own view was it’s well worth the risk. I would happily say the U.S. lose on occasion if we could actually get at this core issue of countries who really do not have a good faith of commitment to the institution filling some of these seats.
MERKLEY: Would all of you share that view, it’s worth the risk.
MALINOWSKI: Yes, I think if I have one simple argument to make today is that we’re pretty good at winning when we put our minds to it. We’ve got good diplomats when they are told something is a priority and to go out, fan out around the world from Moscow to Mauritius and try to win a vote at the United Nations including for our own membership on a body if we’re really serious about it, I think we’re pretty good at winning so long as we confirm our Assistant Secretaries and ambassadors and give them the budget, I would add as…
MERKLEY: Very good. Yes, Mr. Neuer.
NEUER: I think the effort should be made and I just want to know there were some exceptions to the policy of not speaking publicly in opposition to candidacies. One was Syria when we revealed that Syria was being chosen by the Asian group, the United States to go on the record and the European countries and the only case that I am aware of they do on the record a number of them EU countries to oppose Syria’s candidacy and in the end…
MERKLEY: When you say – when we expose that Syria was being nominated, aren’t the nominations public, aren’t people voting on countries that are nominated?
NEUER: Things tend to be secret until the end.
MERKLEY: Secret until the moment of nominating.
NEUER: Yes, diplomats in the Asian group told us that Syria was being selected and they weren’t but it wasn’t public.
MERKLEY: Selected to be a nominee.
MERKLEY: And then, but the entire membership of the UN is voting secretly on these. No, I see some shaking head, no there.
MALINOWSKI: No, no. Once the candidates are known then it’s a public vote. What our policy has been with admittedly some exception to the rule is that we don’t – when there is an election for members of a particular UN body be it the Human Rights Council or the Security Council or something else. We have generally not publicly announced who we are voting for and who we are voting against for the reason that I mentioned.
MERKLEY: Right. Got that.
MALINOWSKI: And there is an argument for and against that policy, but that has been generally the standard in very egregious cases and I think that’s – that was a good example that you raised. We have been more honest, we said of course we’re voting against Syria.
MERKLEY: Well, I imagine – you wanted to weigh in as well.
NEUER: I mean the final vote, we know the vote tally but we don’t know how every country voted.
MERKLEY: Right, because it’s secret.
NEUER: But we’ve had cases where through our diplomatic channels hearing about candidates that are being discussed and activated an effort to derail certain candidates and knowing that they would lose, they withdrew their candidacy that happened with Iran and then when there has been open contest, we’ve also defeated countries like Azerbaijan and Belarus and others.
MERKLEY: Well, it’s – yes, Mr. Neuer.
NEUER: Yes, I think we should redouble our efforts to improve the elections. I do want to say that if that fails which according to recent experience it will fail then we should consider scrapping the entire election process and going to what exist in New York and the third committee where country is a member, because the election currently serves the dictatorships, Saudi Ambassador in Canada, when he was challenged about the human rights record said, what are you talking about, we were elected to the Human Rights Council. They use election to the Human Rights Council as a false badge of international legitimacy and if the election system continues to fail, we should scrap and let every country, which are already observers and present in Geneva let them be members.
MERKLEY: Well, I’ll tell you one thing that would be a value to us is to have you all with your experience suggest to us three or four different ideas that could also be suggested to the Ambassador of United Nations, the conversation we want to have, initial conversation with our Ambassador to understand some of the things that she was wrestling with and this Human Rights Council is one of those and if the battle is fought on the process as a way of getting to the result.
I wanted to switch to the question of if you get elected, does that protect you from being the target of a commission of inquiry?
PICCONE: In principle, no, it does not.
MERKLEY: Not in principle, but in reality.
PICCONE: The fact is I’m just quickly running through my mind, the states that have been subject to commissions of inquiry, I think have not been on the Council at the time those decisions were made. Of course, they are given an opportunity to speak and object and lobby others against it, but they have been obviously unsuccessful in those cases that I mentioned.
MERKLEY: I think it’s interesting as you all have noted that the – being elected is sometimes used to – as a defense that our human rights can be that bad word, we were elected to Human Rights Council, but what I’m guessing an additional incentive to get on to it is to deflect your country being a target of inquiry.
And thus, we have kind of this perverse incentive instead of having the countries that are really striving to elevate human rights, we have an incentive for those that are not striving to elevate human rights be members and that’s just a fundamental flaw on the design that we have to try to remedy.
I wanted to turn to the universal periodic review. Is that done each year?
PICCONE: So, it’s a cycle of over a course of four, four and a half years, every country has reviewed once, they’ve just finished their second cycle. So, every country is now being reviewed twice and recommendations are tabled by governments and accepted or not accepted by the receiving government and then the second review, reviews their implementation of the progress they’ve made on the first round among other things.
MERKLEY: Is this also subject to enormous pressure or manipulation. In other words, if we were to take a group like Human Rights Watch that does totally independent reports, would their results be more or less similar to these internal UN universal, these periodic reviews.
YOUNG: And if I can interject respectfully. I always like to stir disagreement wherever possible in these hearings and I know there is seemingly a disagreement between couple of her panels, I’d like to get clarity in your position. So, Mr. Piccone you described UPR in pretty positive terms in your testimony. Mr. Neuer you say that most of the reviews have failed to be meaningful, effective or noteworthy and you said example in which they were known human rights abusing countries and you refer to this essentially as a mutual prey society. So, thank you for indulging me.
SILVERBERG: May I just hop in, I’m closer to Hillel on this point. In fact, I think I might think it’s even slightly worse because the fact that this is universal facilitates a kind of moral equivalence. You’ll see a paragraph about how Sweden is trying to promote gender equality in the Swedish government and it looks just like the paragraph on another country that’s dealing with extra (ph) killings, it’s a theory the fact that countries all go through this, actually has some really negative effects.
You know my four-year old’s preschool classes this practice of having everyone go around the room and say something nice about all of their classmates and UPR functions a little that way that you’ll have the UPR on Algeria and you’ll have a bunch of countries welcoming progress that Algeria has made and embracing and that happens with every country no matter what their human rights record. So, my own view is actually, we really need to think about how – whether UPR is giving the countries without constructive records, a positive talking point in their defense.
MALINOWSKI: Yes, we have a disagreement. First of all, I think the universality the fact that Sweden and the United States are subject to this is actually quite helpful. When I was Assistant Secretary for human rights, it was really, really important to me in a lot of hostile situations, dealing with the authoritarian governments to say, you know what the United States has these obligations to, we subject ourselves to scrutiny, we come to Geneva, we’re totally open about NGOs asking us questions, other countries challenging us if they think we’ve got a problem, answering those questions, not defensive, you shouldn’t be either and that was a very – it was important for us to be able to say that there is this quality.
Number two, absolutely when Cuba is up there doing its UPR, the Chinese and the Russians will go to that session and then they’ll praise them, of course they will and then the Cubans will praise the Russians. You cannot design any system in the UN in which the dictators won’t praise each other, I mean they’re going to do it, but that’s not all that happens because the democracies are also on those panels and we had a policy under the Obama Administration of attending every countries UPR and asking touch questions and there are other democratic countries that do the same thing.
And so, Algeria sure they’re going to get some praise from somebody but they will also have five or six countries on that panel asking them about freedom of expression, political prisoners, how they treat LGBT people and women.
And for the powerful countries like Russia and China which because they are permanent members really do have a lot of defensive mechanisms to protect themselves against resolutions and commissions of inquiry. This is the one place where they sit at a table like this with people on a higher panel asking tough questions where they have to answer, where their recommendations made that go to the heart of the problem in those countries and when you know when we talk to activist in these countries, they really, really value this process. So, this is something relatively positive about more so than other things that go on in Geneva. PICCONE: When Gaddafi was reviewed, the New York Times actually wrote a whole article quoting the reviews, 80% of which were praised for Gaddafi. That number remains consistent for a number of countries, I often speak when the UPR reports are adopted and then I open them up and ask one of my colleagues count how many statements and recommendations are praised and often the number if 80%, so it’s really not a small minority, it’s a lot. The praise comes from China praising Saudi Arabia for their treatment, for their actions on religious freedom and Saudi Arabia, the next praising China for their treatment of ethnic minorities, but it’s also democracies. Many democracies fail to stand up and ask concrete specific meaningful questions that apply scrutiny. So, I think a lot of work has to be done. I’m glad that UPR exists on paper. It’s good for NGOs, it’s a chance once every four or five years to spotlight China or some other country but regrettably what happens in the room too often is then use by those regimes back home.
I think the answer – the action item for democracy is to work much harder in getting our allies.
MERKLEY: We’re down to just seven minutes left, which I am going to leave with the Chair. So, I’ll just ask this last piece, Duterte, President Duterte in the Philippines has had now I think more than 6000 extrajudicial killings, encouraging people to be cut down in the street.
Philippine is on the commission if this is a recent list. I think it is. Is there ever a case where the human rights commission says there is egregious actions we need to expel someone from the human rights commission?
MALINOWSKI: Yes. That can be done. It was done with Libya, right. So, Gaddafi got a lot of appraise and then he got kicked out once he got unpopular, that’s politics. I think it would be difficult in the case of the Philippines, remember that when the Philippines was elected I think we were probably quite happy at the state department, because it’s a democracy and it’s our ally and we thought it’s a lot better than lot of alternatives in Asia and we’re all now kind of adjusting to a reality in which there still a democracy but…
MERKLEY: So, Libya the only case?
MERKLEY: I want to turn the time back over to Chairman and I thank you all so much for coming and it certainly helps us have a much better understanding. I encourage you to follow-up with the members of the subcommittee on ideas you have that we should consider and consider advocating for or consider brainstorming with our delegation with United Nations on and really appreciate your service and insights. Thank you.
YOUNG: Well, I want to thank our Ranking Member for his thoughtful questions and just really enjoy serving with you on the subcommittee that exchange on UPR to our panelist was clarifying, I think everyone agrees that we should maintain that UPR and irrespective of its deficiencies looking perhaps to improve it along the way as we would anything.
Mr. Neuer yesterday you sent a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the apparent secretariat policy of disclosing the names of human rights activist attending Human Rights Council sessions to requesting state parties, including China in advance of this session.
Can you describe what’s happened, why would this happen and why would this be the policy of why you find it concerning and perhaps what we should do about it
NEUER: Thank you. This policy which we find outrageous is something of direct concern to us because we bring human rights victims to speak, we brought Ti-Anna Wang whose father, a democracy pioneer in China remains behind bars for his democracy work. We brought her to testify couple of years ago at the Human Rights Council. She was intimidated by Chinese agents who were accredited NGO delegates but were actually apparently agents to the Chinese regime. They were detained by UN security and then one of them was expelled because of his actions to harass and photograph our human rights activist.
So, Chinese harassment is a real issue, actually Human Rights Watch yesterday has a whole press release about it in various UN forum. And when we learn from a UN whistleblower Emma Riley, who works with the Office of the High Commissioner, she was the – that office’s liaison to NGOs and she said that she was instructed by the Chief of the Human Rights Council branch to “confirm” according to the UN press release that they confirm names to China, the Chinese gave about 12 names to the UN that are any of these activists coming to the upcoming session and according to the UN press release February OHCHR, they confirmed that language is dubious word because China didn’t have that information, they gave names to China activist were coming, we found that outrageous, if that policy is still in existence, it is written nowhere on any OHCHR website for activist to know about and it endangers the safety and security of human rights activist from China and other countries who come to speak at the Council.
SILVERBERG: May I just add that.
SILVERBERG: I’ve said in my testimony that the Chief of the Human Rights Council branch should be replaced, I would put that high on Ambassador Haley’s to-do list on Geneva and this is one of the many reasons why.
YOUNG: Any other thoughts about how we might improve the situation. It seems like a really good start.
MALINOWSKI: Forgive me for this, but I think there is somewhat broader point that we need to keep in mind and I think both of you alluded to it in your opening statements and that is that, if we want to make the Human Rights Council more effective that presupposes that we care about human rights in our foreign policy and let’s be honest that is somewhat in doubt right now, I mean you mentioned the case of the Philippines and the one thing that I would add to my previous answer is that I don’t think our government right now would support an effort to remove the Philippines from the Human Rights Council because I’m sorry to say that our President has just endorsed the policy of extrajudicial killings there and I think there are a lot of questions around the world about whether the Human Rights Council will effectively speak up for human rights and we have been focused on that in this hearing, but there is a larger question about what the policy of the United States is going to be going forward given Secretary Tillerson’s comments that this is a value, but not a policy.
Some of the strange things that the President has said and then very much contrary to that our Ambassador of the United Nations acting very much in the tradition, bipartisan tradition of administrations that care about this issue that’s the key thing that needs to be resolved here and if it’s resolved in the right way then all of our recommendations become relevant, if it’s not then this is kind of deck chairs on the Titanic.
YOUNG: I see a number of affirmative nods, so I think that’s perhaps a very good place to end. I want to thank all of our panelist once again for your thoughtful and thought-provoking testimony and that concludes our hearing.