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Troubles Plague UN Human Rights Council

Introduction

Despite a high-profile effort to reform the world's top human rights panel, the new UN Human Rights Council continues to face the same criticisms that plagued its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. Experts say bloc voting, loose membership standards, and bias against Israel are keeping the two-year-old council from living up to expectations as a responsible watchdog over global human rights norms. It is earning a failing grade from a broad range of groups, including human rights advocates, international law experts, and democracy activists. Experts say the council's condemnation of the human rights situations in Darfur, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo are steps in the right direction, and there is also a broad expectation that a new U.S. administration in Washington could change the contentious relationship between the council and the United States, which is not a member. But in a year during which the world body marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many see the new rights council as a stain on the UN's reputation.

The Creation of the Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council emerged from a reform process initiated by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan in March 2006 to monitor violations of human rights and encourage their protection. The council is the successor of the Commission on Human Rights, which had become widely discredited for allowing states with questionable human rights records to gain membership and avoid scrutiny. By an almost unanimous vote--the United States, Israel, Palau, and the Marshall Islands were the sole dissenters--the General Assembly overhauled the commission to create the council. The new council was designed to serve as an arena for members to address ongoing abuses and for nongovernmental organizations to voice concerns or to lobby states to take...

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