WashPost: "US Opposes UN's Planned Rights Panel," Declines to Say Why

February 28th, 2006 6:36 PM

The Washington Post reports that the US is opposing the UN's feeble trotting-out of a new Human Rights Council, but doesn't bother to explain criticisms of the proposal. Almost 2/3 of the article is devoted to quoting the Council's supporters and describing the supposed "improvements," without any discussion of why these changes make things worse.

The Post:

[Annan and other supporters] noted that provisions to subject all council members to scrutiny of their human rights record would discourage countries with poor records from joining. They also said that council members suspected of abusive behavior can be suspended by a vote of two-thirds of the U.N. membership present.

The problem:

There is a provision for suspending a Council member that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights. But the step can only be taken with the agreement of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly. Fifty percent of the General Assembly could not even agree that Sudan was guilty of human-rights violations in November of 2005.

The Post:

The new council would consist of 47 members selected by secret ballot on the basis of "geographical distribution" and committed to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights."

The problem:

Instead of a much smaller body designed to attract the best states from each regional group, the proposal merely reduces the number of members from 53 to 47.

The proposal significantly shifts the balance of power away from the Western regional group, including the United States. The African and Asian regional groups will hold 55 percent of the votes. The proportional representation of the Asian group will represent the greatest increase and the representation of the Western group the greatest decline.

The Post:

Members would be elected for as many as two three-year terms at a time and would meet for at least 10 weeks throughout the year.

The problems:

States which are elected must rotate off every two terms. The United States has been a member of the Commission every year since 1947, with one exception, and has played a leadership role in efforts to promote human rights throughout the Commission’s history, not to mention paying for 22 percent of its costs.


Special sessions of the commission can be called by just one third of the council's membership. Although this feature has been hailed as an improved capacity to deal with urgent human rights situations, the membership of the new council will make it more likely that special sessions will be about the United States and Israel rather than China or Sudan.

The Post reduces the US response to mere distrust and discontent, and allows Annan to take the high ground of opposing obstruction. While it's not the Post's job to act as a mouthpiece for the administration, it's hard to see how this article even approaches a fair airing of the facts.