Why the USA Should Stay on the Human Rights Council

The new chair of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs is convening a big hearing tomorrow on the U.S. contributions to the United Nations. The hearing is titled United Nations: Urgent Problems that Require Congressional Action.

This article from The Hill suggests that chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s first target among these so-called “urgent problems” is the UN Human Rights Council. She wants the Obama administration to pull out of the Council and to de-fund it.

Here is why that is a bad idea:

1) The HRC is a reality. It is not going away and the United States does not have much to gain from pretending it does not exist.  On the other hand, American engagement at the Council gives the United States a great deal of influence over how votes break down and who gets elected to the Council. In just one example, US diplomacy helped to prevent Iran from securing a seat on the Council.  The US was also able to stave off a harmful vote on the “defamation of religions.”

2)  If your main concern about the Council is that it unfairly and unduly focuses on Israel, why would you want Israel’s main defender to walk out?  The United States has helped to put a check on the anti-Israel stuff in the years since it joined.  Israel will be worse off without the USA on the Council.

3) The Human Rights Council does good stuff!  Sure, not all votes go the way the United States would like. But more often than not, American interests are well represented at the Council. Last March, the Council voted to create new human rights monitoring mechanisms in Burma, Guinea and North Korea.  The Universal Periodic Review mechanism has yielded some tangible gains for human rights around the world.

The bottom line is this: if your main critique of the Human Rights Council is that it is not sufficiently pro-human rights, and if you believe the United States is a paragon of human rights, then it makes little sense to advocate for an American retreat from the council!