After reading her take down of the UN Human Rights Council, I get the impression that Anne Applebaum does not know that there is a difference between the Human Rights Council and the old, UN Commission on Human Rights. These are two separate institutions, former of which replaced the latter in 2006. The new Human Rights Council has completely different mandates and criteria for membership than the Commission on Human Rights, which was abolished.
Still, it seems that Applebaum is unaware 1) these are two different institutions and 2) the Commission no longer exists. Why might I have this impression? Well, for one, she gets the name wrong in her opening graf, calling it “the United Nations Council on human rights” — an amalgam of the two names. (The one in existence is the UN Human Rights Council, or just “Human Rights Council.”) Then, after getting the title wrong she writes, “Despite its title, this is a committee whose past members — Syria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe among them — have not been renowned for their adherence to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.”
In fact, only Saudi Arabia is or was a member of the Council. Syria and Zimbabwe have never been on the Human Rights Council. They have, however, been past members of the Commission. These countries are off the council, in part, because the new body makes it much harder for a pariah state like Zimbabwe to gain membership. (Just ask Iran). This is why the Council was considered an upgrade from the old Commission–and is why it is seen as a more effective institution.
Still, she continues to seemingly conflate the two bodies.
“Different American administrations have adopted different approaches to this peculiar institution. In recent years the United States has quit the council, denounced the council and isolated the council, generally with bipartisan support Perhaps the only New York Times editorial ever written in praise of John Bolton, President Bush’s pugnacious U.N. ambassador, complimented him for advocating its radical reform.”
In fact, there have been only two American administrations in the entire life history of the Human Rights Council: the Bush administration and the Obama administration. The Bush administration, did, indeed, try to isolate the Council. The Obama administration, on the other hand, has repudiated the former administration’s approach and is now a member of the council in good standing.
After discussing how the Obama administration’s intervention in the council led to blocking Iran’s bid for council membership, Applebaum turns to the lamentable fact that Iran is now a member of the Commission on the Status of Women. This is, indeed, deeply problematic. The thing is, she then concludes that we must “abandon the fiction of U.N. human rights diplomacy altogether.” That argument would be more convincing if the author displayed more than a superficial understanding of the UN’s human rights architecture.