Washington, May 3, 2007 — UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer today participated in a panel discussion on the UN Human Rights Council at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. The event was titled “The U.N. Human Rights Council: Success or Failure – An Assessment of the First Year” and was attended by leading foreign policy experts, government officials, academics and NGO representatives.
The following, from the Heritage Foundation, provides the background of the event and the questions posed to the panel:The other panelists were U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Mark Lagon; Washington Director of Human Rights First, Elissa Massimino; Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard A. Leon; and Democracy Coalition Project Senior Policy Analyst Dokhi Fassihian. The panelists represented a broad spectrum of opinions on global human rights, but they unanimously called the Council’s first year a bitter disappointment.
After the panel, Neuer, Assistant Executive Director Elizabeth Cassidy, and Fellow Caroline Gross attended a Heritage Foundation Luncheon with the other panelists as well as representatives of the U.S. Department of State and Congressional staffers.
The following, from the Heritage Foundation, provides the background of the event and the questions posed to the panel:
The U.N. General Assembly voted in March 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights with the Human Rights Council. The General Assembly took this drastic action because the Commission, dominated by human rights abusers who used their influence to block scrutiny or criticism, proved unable to champion human rights. As former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted in 2005, ‘We have reached a point at which the Commission’s declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system.’
Annan called the new Human Rights Council ‘a great opportunity to make a fresh start.’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour stated, ‘The decision of the General Assembly to create the Council is momentous. It responds to the hope that the global community could come together and create a strong institution at the heart of the international human rights system.’ Human rights non-governmental organizations and U.S. elected officials were more cautious, stating that the Council was an improvement over the Commission – albeit not as much of an improvement as they had hoped – and should be supported by the United States. The U.S. voted against the resolution establishing the Council, however, based on its concern that it would not be an improvement over the discredited Commission. Moreover, the U.S. decided not to run for a seat on the new Council.
In its first year the Human Rights Council has held four sessions and four special sessions. How has the Council performed? Has it been an improvement over the Commission? Have the reforms adopted to address the flaws of the Commission proven effective? Has the new election process resulted in an improved Council membership and what can we expect in the upcoming May election? What are the prospects for the Council going forward?