Just as Iranians were reminded of their stolen June 2009 election and continued oppression, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) decided to kick them while they’re down. On June 10, with the active involvement and approval of the Obama administration, the Council adopted a decision on human rights in Iran that was a sentence long and contained no condemnation whatsoever.
The context was a review by the Council of Iran’s human rights record, as part of the Council’s consideration of all 192 UN states. The review featured a vigorous defense by Iranian representatives of Iran’s stellar human rights achievements, followed by Iran’s rejection of a host of “recommendations” made to improve its actual behavior. The “outcome” was a sentence identical for dictatorships and democracies alike, in which the Council merely refers to a bundle of documents containing praise, criticisms and responses without drawing any conclusion attributable to the Council itself.
The incomprehensible UN decision reads: "The Human Rights Council...Adopts…the report of the Working Group on the Islamic Republic of Iran, together with the views of the Islamic Republic of Iran concerning the recommendations and/or conclusions, as well as its voluntary commitments and its replies presented before the adoption of the outcome by the plenary to questions or issues that were not sufficiently addressed during the interactive dialogue in the Working Group.”
The reaction from the Obama administration was to declare victory and to manufacture something positive to say about Iran. On June 10, U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe rushed to the UN microphones in Geneva to announce repeatedly: “I have to emphasize that we are very pleased that Iran was willing to participate at all…. In the case of Iran, we applaud the willingness to participate at all…. We’re pleased that at least they were willing to show up.”
Praising Iran despite its total disregard of the fundamentals of human decency is the antithesis of the supposed liberal human rights mantra. Instead of buoying the Human Rights Council’s performance, the Obama administration is sinking with it.
When the Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the discredited UN Human Rights Commission, it introduced the process called the Universal Periodic Review or UPR. The UPR has been repeatedly championed as the leading innovation of the Council and the first justification for the Obama administration quickly jumping on board in May 2009. Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, has called it “a good mechanism.” State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh has labeled it “an important change” justifying the heart of the administration’s foreign policy, or as Koh tells it: “with the HRC…we have chosen principled engagement and strategic multilateralism.”
The UPR on Iran is clear evidence of the abysmal failure of so-called principled engagement and strategic multilateralism, since the principles are nowhere to be seen and the strategy guaranteed to defeat human rights.
Here is the story of what happened when the UN’s lead human rights body, and its showpiece procedure for promoting human rights, met Iran, human rights violator extraordinaire.
The UPR takes place in stages, the first stage being a 3-hour public dialogue with state representatives. The state is then given an opportunity to respond to recommendations made during the dialogue to improve its behavior, and then some months later the Council adopts a report on the country concerned. In Iran’s case, the dialogue occurred on February 15, Iran responded to the recommendations in writing on February 17 and again in early June, and the report on Iran was adopted on June 10.
On February 15 Iran sent a large delegation to Geneva, headed by Mohammad Javad Larijani, Secretary General of the High Council of Human Rights. The UN gave the Iranian representatives a full hour to recount their country’s glorious record and Larijani relished every minute of it. He declared: “A salient feature of our constitution is its explicit and extensive reference to...the main pillars of human rights... Iran [has a] firm commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights ...Iran is one of the prominent democratic states in the region.”