UN News: US among 18 nations elected to UN Human Rights Council

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar

Hi Blog.  Let’s do some catching up with UN stuff for the weekend.  Some of this stuff regarding membership on the UN Human Rights Council is pretty rich, especially given the US’s record on torture during the Bush II Admin.  But again, it’s time to see the back of that dark era.  And let’s hope the HRC actually becomes a meaningful organization that can pressure Japan to pass laws against racial discrimination.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


UN News, New York, May 12 2009 3:00PM

The General Assembly today <“http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2009/ga10826.doc.htm“>elected 18 countries to serve on the Geneva-based United Nations <“http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/”>Human Rights Council for three-year terms starting next month, including – for the first time – Belgium, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Norway and the United States.

The 47-member Council replaced the Human Rights Commission – which faced increasing criticism over the years as being ineffective and not accountable – in 2006.

The Assembly also re-elected Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Jordan, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Uruguay. All 18 members elected today will begin their terms on 19 June.

In March, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had welcomed the announcement by the US that it would seek a seat on the Council, saying it embodies the country’s commitment to a “new era of engagement.”

UN News New York, May 14 2009  7:00PM

In becoming a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a country not only takes on greater responsibility for tackling abuses worldwide, but also lays bear its own record for the scrutiny of others, the world body’s top rights official said today. 

“Council membership is not a reward for good behaviour. It is a responsibility, one that exposes members to increased accountability before their peers,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay wrote in an <“http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/opinion/14iht-edpillay.html?_r=1“>opinion piece published today in the International Herald Tribune. 

She noted that critics of the Council point to the fact that among its 47 members are countries with “less-than-pristine” human rights records. 

“To those critics I say two things: Is there any country that has a blemish-free record? Human rights violations are not the bane of any particular country or region. And even if such a thing were possible, what impact would a club of the virtuous have on those outside?” 

Ms. Pillay called the Universal Periodic Review – by which the human rights record of every country in the world, including its own members, is examined – one of the “true innovations” of the three-year-old body. Almost 80 countries have already been scrutinized. 

This week the United States became one of five countries – along with Belgium, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan and Norway – elected to the Council for the first time. “President [Barack] Obama’s decision to seek membership is a welcome step to restoring international trust in US support for human rights,” noted the High Commissioner.

She added that participation in the Council is indispensable if States wish to influence how it develops, and also crucial to confront global human rights challenges and threats.

On terrorism, Ms. Pillay said that, in their countermeasures, the US and other governments have expanded executive power at the expense of the legislature and the courts, and eroded many of the most basic human rights guarantees of the modern era. “Experience shows that if checks and balances are not adequate, the margin of abuse is high.

“Although much more needs to be done, President Obama’s determination to resolve the untenable situation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, ban CIA prisons and implement the prohibition on torture in compliance with international standards is highly welcome,” she wrote. 

“The US should also shed light into the still opaque areas that surround capture, interrogation methods, rendition and detention conditions of those alleged to have been involved in terrorism, and ensure that perpetrators of torture and abuse are held to account,” Ms. Pillay added. 

The Geneva-based Council replaced the Human Rights Commission – which faced increasing criticism over the years as being ineffective and not accountable – in 2006.

For more details go to UN News Centre at http://www.un.org/news


3 comments on “UN News: US among 18 nations elected to UN Human Rights Council

  • Does it need to be explained?

    The US did not hold a seat on this council as important (and it’s previous incarnation, The Commission on Human Rights, which elected Sudan uncontested during the Darfur ethnic cleansing! prompting the US Ambassador to walk out) because it is clearly a farce, even by U.N. standards.

    It seems like the main reason some seek membership is so the governments of the member countries can directly keep an eye on (or control or deflect) investigations into human rights abuse in their own countries, or onto countries they don’t like, all while gaining praise for being “open”, yet doing nothing to halt actual abuses that make the US acts pale by comparison. Things like actually, you know, killing people merely for being gay, or female, or the wrong skin color, or clan, or thinking the “wrong” thing. Or actual, real torture, with pliers, electrodes, and hacksaws for saying the “wrong” thing.

    Oddly, the membership looks like Amnesty International’s Top 10 bad places list mixed with the Top 10 donor nation list.

    To bring it back to Japan. I am actually be a bit WORRIED that Japan joined this group recently. All the easier to just influence any reports to favor Japan, covering up actual human rights problems here.

    — Yes, I know. I didn’t really get into the previous incarnation of the HRC (I have before, many times). I just thought it rich that we have countries with clear records of abuses becoming a group like this. It’s like having Morgan Stanley, AIG, Goldman Sachs etc. joining a committee to create policy regulating financial derivatives. Well, okay, kinda like. But you get the point. I agree with your assessment and worries.

  • “I just thought it rich that we have countries with clear records of abuses becoming a group like this”

    That’s true, Debito-san. But I just loathe when someone says, “Why is (such-and-such) a part of (such-and-such) human rights group? They have such a bad human rights record.” Statements like that are so naive! Every country violates human rights in some way or another, some more flagrantly and openly than others. If we actually DID try to prevent “human rights abusing” countries from being part of groups like this, I doubt we’d have any countries left to make up the group at all. That’s one of the sad truths of the world.

    — Point taken. I still believe they deserve the scoffs and brickbats, however.

  • Douglas Sweetlove says:

    You may want to read what Vaclav Havel has to say on the subject:


    It is a total farce. The UN needs to stick to well digging and forget trying to influence policy.

    A Table for Tyrants
    Published: May 10, 2009

    IMAGINE an election where the results are largely preordained and a number of candidates are widely recognized as unqualified. Any supposedly democratic ballot conducted in this way would be considered a farce. Yet tomorrow the United Nations General Assembly will engage in just such an “election” when it votes to fill the vacancies on the 47-member Human Rights Council.

    Only 20 countries are running for 18 open seats. The seats are divided among the world’s five geographic regions and three of the five regions have presented the same number of candidates as there are seats, thus ensuring there is no opportunity to choose the best proponents of human rights each region has to offer.

    Governments seem to have forgotten the commitment made only three short years ago to create an organization able to protect victims and confront human rights abuses wherever they occur.

    An essential precondition was better membership. The council’s precursor, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, was folded in 2006 mainly because it had, for too long, allowed gross violators of human rights like Sudan and Zimbabwe to block action on their own abuses.

    The council was supposed to be different. For the first time, countries agreed to take human rights records into account when voting for the council’s members, and those member-states that failed to, in the words of the founding resolution, “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” would find themselves up for review and their seats endangered. For victims of human rights abuses and advocates for human rights worldwide, the reforms offered the hope of a credible and effective body.

    Now, it seems, principle has given way to expediency. Governments have resumed trading votes for membership in various other United Nations bodies, putting political considerations ahead of human rights. The absence of competition suggests that states that care about human rights simply don’t care enough. Latin America, a region of flourishing democracies, has allowed Cuba to bid to renew its membership. Asian countries have unconditionally endorsed the five candidates running for their region’s five seats — among them, China and Saudi Arabia.

    In past years, Western countries encouraged rights-respecting states from other regions to compete for election. This year, they have ceded the high ground by presenting a non-competitive slate for the council elections. New Zealand withdrew when the United States declared its candidacy, leaving just three countries — Belgium, Norway and the United States — running for three seats.

    Even where competition is guaranteed, it is minimal. In the Eastern Europe region — which under the United Nations’ rules includes all countries behind the former Iron Curtain, including my own, the Czech Republic — the countries running for re-election are Azerbaijan and Russia, whose human rights records oscillate from questionable to despicable. Only Hungary has stepped forward to compete for the region’s two seats. The reluctance of Eastern European states to reclaim leadership from human rights abusers does not inspire confidence.

    Like the citizens of Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia, I know what it is like to live in a country where the state controls public discourse, suppresses opposition and severely curtails freedom of expression. It is thus doubly dismaying for me to see the willingness of democracies in Latin America and Asia to sit by and watch the council further lose its credibility and respect.

    Activists and journalists in Azerbaijan and Cuba have already appealed to the international community not to elect their nations to the Human Rights Council. States committed to human rights and the integrity of the council cannot remain indifferent. Countries must express solidarity with the victims of human rights abuses and reclaim the council by simply refusing to vote for human rights abusers in this shamefully uncontested election.

    Vaclav Havel was the president of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>