US Taxpayers Fund UN Human Rights Council Activities Which the US Opposes

By Patrick Goodenough | June 26, 2013 | 2:24am EDT

The U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva, Switzerland. (U.N. Photo by Jess Hoffman)

( – The Obama administration’s decision to support and generously fund the U.N. Human Rights Council means that U.S. taxpayers are not only paying for council activities the administration supports, but also those the U.S. opposed and voted against.

An internal document outlining expenditure for various HRC programs, made available for the first time this week by U.N. Watch, a non-governmental organization that monitors the Geneva-based body, shows that having an independent expert on the “promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” is costing the council $1.58 million.

An inter-governmental working group drafting a U.N’ “declaration on the right to peace,” meanwhile, is costing a further $329,300 a year.

While these are relatively small sums, most will come from the United States – even though it does not recognize the “right to peace” concept, and opposed the drive to establish a “promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” mandate.

When the council last July voted on a Cuba-promoted “right to peace” resolution, the U.S. alone voted no, saying that previous such efforts “have always ended in endorsements for new concepts on controversial thematic issues, often unrelated to human rights.”

Cuba was also behind the earlier initiative at the HRC to establish a “promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” mandate. Supported by its least democratic members, the resolution was pushed through by the council’s developing world majority in late 2011.

During a sometimes heated debate leading up the vote the U.S. and European members clashed with Cuba over exactly what manner of “democracy” was to be promoted.

Polish envoy Mariusz Lewicki, speaking for the European Union, said any new mandate should include the promotion of democracy at a national level. He suggested amendments that would add to the text “essential elements of democracy” such as genuine elections, choice between political parties and guarantees of freedom of expression and association.

But Cuban delegate Juan Antonio Quintanilla called the proposed changes “killing amendments” that showed bad faith, saying they originated from former colonial powers trying to impose an “Anglo-Saxon” order on the world.

Democracy and human rights advocates widely agree that communist-ruled Cuba does not hold genuine elections, allow party choice, or guarantee freedom of expression and association.

U.S. representative Stephen Townley wanted to remove several clauses from the draft text, including the one calling for an expert to be appointed. He said the mandate was unclear, too expensive, and would divert the council’s attention and limited resources.

The Cuban envoy in turn accused the U.S. of double standards, of trying to undermine the HRC’s work, and of being driven by a desire to maintain its control over the global economic order, with negative consequences for indigenous peoples.

Cuba’s representative at the Human Rights Council, Juan Antonio Quintanilla, accused Western democracies of wanting to “dominate the world with their economic and military models.”

Quintanilla concluded that the resolution had significant support from the international community and countries in the south, and that it was only those in the north that opposed it, “with their wish to dominate the world with their economic and military models.”

The amendments failed, and the resolution passed by 29-12 votes. Among those voting “yes” were China, Russia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia Angola, Congo, Cameroon, Jordan, Qatar, and Kyrgyzstan – all defined as “not free” by Freedom House.

The council subsequently appointed law professor Alfred de Zayas as the “independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.”

In his first report to the HRC last September, de Zayas said that countries must refrain from the threat or use of force, and promote a culture of dialogue to address “disparities” in the international system.

“An international order in which only a few powerful players take all the decisions, often disregarding the consequences for the less powerful, is hardly democratic,” he said.

De Zayas also spoke about the need for countries to reform at home. “Progress in democratization at the domestic level is necessary to ensure a correlation between the true wishes of the people and the governmental measures, including foreign policy, that affects them.”

Commenting on the HRC funding breakdown, U.N. Watch said Monday that while some funds were well spent on mandates speaking out for victims, “millions of dollars are being wasted by the U.N. human rights system to fund questionable mandates that either have no connection to individual human rights or, worse, are designed by countries such as Cuba as political mechanisms to attack democracies.”

The United States is by far the HRC’s biggest funder. It not only accounts for 22 percent of the council’s regular budget – a proportion that amounted to about $18 million a year – but it also gives millions more in voluntary contributions.

Last year additional contributions by the U.S. totaled $13.23 million, topping a U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights list of 75 countries making such voluntary payments in 2012. Cuba was not on the list.

The U.S. did not support or join the HRC when it was established in 2006, but Obama reversed that policy in 2009.

His administration has portrayed its work at the HRC as a leading accomplishment in its engagement with the broader U.N. system.

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