House Foreign Affairs Chairman: U.S. Must Withdraw from U.N. Human Rights Council

March 22, 2011 - 4:25 AM

Ros-Lehtinen

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The chair of the U.S House Foreign Affairs Committee said Monday she will introduce legislation that makes U.S. funding for the United Nations contingent on reform. It also calls for the U.S. to withdraw from the Human Rights Council.

Describing the Obama administration’s attempts to reform the HRC as a failure, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the U.S. should quit the HRC and “explore credible, alternative forums to advance human rights.”

The Florida Republican’s statement came as the Geneva-based HRC began the final week of a month-long session in which it will adopt up to six resolutions condemning Israel.

The disproportionate attention given by the 47-member HRC to Israel was one of the main reasons cited by the Bush administration for staying away from the council.

Ros-Lehtinen’s comments on the HRC formed part of a broader statement announcing her intention to introduce a revised version of a bill she first put forward in 2007.

“Its fundamental principle will be ‘reform first, pay later,’” she said in a statement Monday. “I hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will partner with me on this important issue. Fixing the U.N. is a vital American interest.”

Ros-Lehtinen outlined four lessons she said were learned from previous reform efforts – money talks; U.S. leadership matters; don’t settle for cosmetic changes; don’t cite good U.N. activities to justify bad ones.

“I am not interested in tearing down the U.N. or withdrawing the United States from that body,” she said. “I believe that we must focus on how to fix the U.N. to make it more transparent, accountable, and effective.”

When it comes to the Human Rights Council, however, Ros-Lehtinen implied it was beyond redemption.

“Israel is the only country on the council’s permanent agenda, while abuses by rogue regimes like Cuba, China, and Syria are ignored,” she said.

“Libya’s Gaddafi regime was actually a member of the council until recently, and other serial human rights abusers still sit on the body.”

Ros-Lehtinen said that since the HRC was established it has been “as bad as its predecessor,” the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

“The council’s rare resolutions criticizing real human rights abuses are usually too little and too late. Why did it take the massacre of hundreds of people in the streets for the U.N. to throw Libya off the Council? Why was Gaddafi’s regime permitted to join the council to begin with in 2010? Why are other human rights abusers – including China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia – still on the council?

”The Obama administration has tried to reform the council from within, but has failed,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We should finally leave the council and explore credible, alternative forums to advance human rights.”

‘Demonization of Israel’

HRC building

The Human Rights Council meets at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, in the Palais des Nations. (Photo: UNOG)

When it joined the HRC in 2009, the Obama administration conceded that it was flawed, but argued that it could best work to improve the U.N.’s premier rights body from within.

Nonetheless, this week will see the council vote on the largest number of resolutions “dedicated to the demonization of Israel” in one session in its five-year history, according to Anne Bayefsky, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and editor of its Eye on the U.N. project.

Given the dominance of the Islamic bloc and its allies, all will likely pass.

Ironically, one of the six resolutions relates to the human rights of Syrians – but not those inside Syria,  where at least five people have been killed by security forces while demonstrating for political freedoms in recent days.

Instead, the resolution criticizes Israel for what it calls “the systematic and continuous violation” of the human rights of Syrian citizens in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War.

The other five Israel resolutions before the HRC this week are:

-- “The grave violations by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”

-- “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”

-- “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan”

-- Follow-up to the report of the U.N. fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict (the Goldstone report)

-- Follow up to committee of experts’ report on the “flotilla incident

The HRC session dedicates a total of four resolutions to human rights abuses in individual countries in the rest of the world. They focus on Burma (introduced by the European Union); Iran (the U.S. and five others); Cote d’Ivoire (African Union); and North Korea (E.U. and Japan).

(One final country-specific resolution relates to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but is not condemnatory, but instead “encourages” and “urges” the DRC government to take steps to end abuses.)

‘U.S. engagement has improved the council’

The Obama administration has characterized its membership of the HRC as a success. In a fact sheet released to coincide with the opening of the annual session of the U.N. General Assembly last September it said the U.S. as a member had:

-- “spoken out on serious human rights abuses in Iran, Burma, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Russia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.”

-- led the council in authorizing “international mandates to closely monitor and address the human rights situations in Burma, North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan.”

-- “co-led a cross-regional effort with 55 other nations to criticize the deplorable human rights situation in Iran.”

Esther Brimmer at U.N. Human Rights Council

Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Esther Brimmer addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 14, 2009, the day the U.S. took its seat on the body for the first time. (U.N. Photo by Gilles Sereni)

Ahead of the current HRC session, Esther Brimmer, assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, expanded in a speech delivered at the Brookings Institution.

“Are we frustrated with the council’s ongoing substantive shortcomings? Deeply,” she said. “Could the HRC do more to address pressing human rights issues? Far more. And does it continue an unfair and imbalanced focus on Israel? It does. Will the session in March be tough? It will.

“But these criticisms, like many we face, tell only part of the story,” Brimmer continued. “They fail to recognize how the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies have improved as a result of U.S. engagement, and how these bodies do advance U.S. foreign policy goals. And they ignore the reality that without U.S. engagement, these bodies likely would have been dominated even more by our adversaries.”

The U.S. provides 22 percent of the U.N.’s regular operating budget. The administration’s 2011 budget request for contributions to the regular budget was $516.3 million, part of an overall $1.18 billion for the U.N. and affiliated agencies (the World Health Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency etc.)

Ros-Lehtinen’s U.N. Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act, introduced in 2007 and again in 2009, sought to make U.S. funding for the U.N. conditional on the implementation of reforms throughout the U.N. system.

Its provisions included placing restrictions on U.S. participation in the HRC and withhold funding to the U.N. proportionate to the amount allocated to the council.

Her 2009 initiative received the support of 106 co-sponsors, all Republicans.