The Power of Engagement at United Nations

There was a flurry of activity at the United Nations last week on the human rights front.  For the past three months the “Third Committee” of the General Assembly, which includes under its purview human rights issues, has been considering a number of items.  These ranged from country-specific resolutions against Iran, Myanmar and North Korea to thematic issues like from discrimination, torture and human rights treaties.  

On Friday, December 18th the General Assembly acted on a number of these items.  The General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Iran for its human rights crackdown after the June 2009 elections. It also passed a resolution condemning the human rights situation in North Korea. (The Myanmar resolution was deferred for technical reasons).  

Both of these resolutions were co-sponsored by the United States.  And with these votes it would seem that the General Assembly’s human rights apparatus was working as it should.  To that end, some credit should go to the Obama administration, which in very tangeable ways put into practice its promise of a new era of engagement the UN.  

The United States, for the first time in eight years, joined consensus on the Right to Food (a resolution submitted by Cuba) and the Rights of the Child (submitted by the European Union.)  According to a close observer, the U.S. received applause by the Third Committee during its vote.  Let me repeat that. The United States earned applause at the United Nations for its stand on human rights.  The United States also joined consensus on a resolution on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as on a resolution taking note of the most recent report on the work of the Human Rights Council, (as did Israel) both States voted against the same resolution last year.

Now, I can’t prove a quid-pro-quo in which the United States received support for the Iran and DPRK resolutions it sponsored in exchange for American support for a number of these thematic human rights resolutions. I can say with certainty that it is much easier for the United States to pursue its agenda at the United Nations when it is receiving ovations from other member states.