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The US must do more than block Iran's candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council — starting in the area of counter-terrorism.
WASHINGTON — Today, the United Nations General Assembly will elect 14 new members to its Human Rights Council.
The good news is that Iran, despite waging an animated campaign, has withdrawn its bid for a seat and will therefore not be elected to the council.
The bad news is that, for the first time since the council was created in 2006, there will be no competition for seats, giving states like Libya a pass. The naysayers are already at work saying this is yet another reason to walk away from the council, but that easy approach misses the bigger story unfolding in U.N. corridors and in capitals around the world.
Some basic facts are worth highlighting: The U.N. Human Rights Council is a body composed of imperfect governments, none of which can claim purity on human rights. Some, however, are more imperfect than others, and that is why the U.N.’s members have created criteria for election to its top human rights body.
According to this criteria, a state should uphold “the highest standards” of human rights and “fully cooperate” with the council. It should present pledges outlining its qualifications and goals and may not run for more than two consecutive terms. It can even be removed from the council for gross and systematic violations of human rights.
In practice, when given a choice for the seats allotted to each region, states have managed to defeat the candidate with the worse human rights record. In 2007, it was Belarus, which the General Assembly condemned only a few months earlier for its poor human rights record. In 2008, Sri Lanka was defeated in the midst of intense warfare against its civilian Tamil population. In 2009, Azerbaijan, another poor performer on human rights, lost.
This year, thanks to the possibility of competitive slates, Iran withdrew from the race because it figured out it would lose; it failed even to garner enough support from its Asian neighbors. Given the General Assembly’s strong condemnation of Iran’s human rights abuses last December and the continued repression since then, it is a rare but welcomed example of the truth trumping propaganda.
What explains these results?