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Syria, the U.N. Human Rights Council, and the Obama Administration

9:00 AM, Apr 2, 2011 • By ANNE BAYEFSKY
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Then the administration pointed to “efforts to renew the mandate of the independent expert tasked with monitoring human rights throughout Sudan.” It neglects to mention, however, that the mandate was renewed only after excising all criticism of the government of Sudan from the Council resolution and substituting such praise as: “recognizing…the efforts of the government of the Sudan in the promotion and protection of human rights.” 

The U.S. list also emphasizes the president’s “pivotal role” in suspending Libyan membership from the Council. This “success” (which should never have been necessary to begin with), somehow overlooks the fact that human rights paragons and Council members like Saudi Arabia and China remain comfortably in place.

Then there is the stunning misrepresentation of “a strong statement on LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] rights” from “a group of 85 countries,” that the Obama team heralds as a “landmark moment” for the U.N. Joined by less than half of U.N. members, a mere statement carries with it no practical consequences. And just two days later, the Council adopted a contrary resolution over the wishes of the same coalition. When the resolution on “traditional values of humankind” was passed, the American delegate specifically lamented that it “undermine[d]…the rights of…LGBT individuals.”

The administration even claims to have “end[ed] the divisive debate over the highly problematic concept of ‘defamation of religions.’” But the resolution on religion which was adopted specifically cites as a role model a “speech given by Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu,” delivered on September 16, 2010. In that same speech, not only did Ihsanoglu refer to the defamation of religions, he declared that Islamic law trumps human rights. In his words: “the holy Quran…places a premium on human dignity — a concept that transcends human rights. Furthermore, a December 2010 resolution of the General Assembly necessitates that a report on the “defamation of religions” be completed by the fall. Making reports of its demise premature, to say the least.

Overall, U.S. membership on the Council has been so “successful” that, at its latest session, the U.S. lost eleven of the fourteen votes held.

Most significantly, the session marked the end of the Council’s own five-year review. The administration billed membership as the golden ticket for ensuring reform “from within.” As it turned out, every serious recommendation that the Obama administration put forward on reform (39 of 42) was firmly rejected, ensuring nothing but more of the same in the years ahead.

We are left with the troubling reality that both Assad and Obama are enchanted with the same U.N. Human Rights Council, to the detriment of human rights victims in Syria and around the world.

Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a professor at Touro College, and the editor of EYEontheUN.org. 

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