Tuesday, April 7, 2009
We reported last week on the welcome development that the United States has decided to seek election next month to the U.N. Human Rights Council. The United States had shunned the Council under President Bush and John Bolton (the U.N. ambassador who proved so controversial that he had to be appointed during a Senate recess because he was unlikely to receive Senate confirmation). But President Obama and his U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, have reversed that decision and announced that the U.S. would seek a seat on the Council.
The Council has 47 members who must be elected from regional blocs. The Human Rights Council replaced the Human Rights Commission, a body widely viewed as being ineffective. The United States would have to run for one of three open seats in the Western bloc. Belgium, New Zealand, and Norway were already candidates for those seats. I have even seen campaign literature from New Zealand for a seat on the Human Rights Council (the campaign literature was in the form of a bookmark placed inside the very useful Guide to Geneva published by the New Zealand Mission). But after the U.S. announced that it was seeking a seat, New Zealand announced its withdrawal as a candidate. The New York Times quoted a statement from New Zealand's foreign minister, Murray McCully, to the effect that U.S. membership on the Human Rights Council would be more likely to create positive changes than those that New Zealand could achieve if it were elected.
The United States owes a great debt to New Zealand for this gesture. Participation by the United States on the Human Rights Council may help that body achieve its intended purpose of promoting and improving the human rights situation throughout the world. Thank you, New Zealand. And thank you, United States, for running for a seat on the Council.