Suzanne Nossel 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration defended its participation in the UN Human
Rights Council, after the body’s recent session wrapped up last week with the
appointment of a special rapporteur on Iran but more anti-Israel resolutions
passed than ever before.
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“We thought there were some significant and
worthwhile things that came out of the session,” Suzanne Nossel, deputy
assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Organization
Affairs, told The Jerusalem Post Monday.
“We recognize that not
everybody’s going to agree with us, and we’re not going to prevail all the time,
but we think it’s an important debate to be part of,” she said.
have attacked the administration for participating in a body that singles out
Israel and allows some of the countries with the worst records on human rights
to serve as members.
Nossel acknowledged the problematic nature of the
council, noting that “there were things we were dissatisfied with – obviously
the continued and excessive attention to Israel.”
She also described the
organization as not living up to its own mandate.
historically has been very weak and has really fallen short of its obligation to
address the full range of serious human rights situations globally,” she
“Their ability to come to grips with these things has improved
somewhat, but it’s far from complete.”
She pointed to successes,
including the Iran rapporteur to monitor and report on human rights violations
there; the decision to send a commission of inquiry to Ivory Coast; a statement
supporting gay rights; and a US-led effort to scale back language condemning
religious defamation that would contradict freedom of expression.
body also made an unprecedented decision to suspend Libya once Col. Muammar
Gaddafi starting firing on his own people, but Syria – believed to be engaged in
similar activities on a smaller scale – is still likely to be elected to
membership on the council this May, as it is currently running
Scenarios like this one have intensified opposition to US
participation in the council in some quarters, as critics charge that the
changes the Obama administration envisioned by rejoining a body shunned under
the Bush administration have not materialized.
House Foreign Affairs
Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is expected to introduce legislation in
the coming weeks that would eliminate US funding for the body if it were not
According to committee staff, the funds would be denied unless
the secretary of state certified that the council would bar member states under
UN Security Council resolutions for human rights violations or sanctions; would
not include state sponsors of terror or countries of concern according to the US
survey of religious freedom; and would not include on its agenda a permanent
item devoted to Israel.
“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 UN to throw Libya off
the Council?” Ros-Lehtinen asked in a Miami Herald op-ed last week.
are other human rights abusers – including China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia
– still on the Council?” She concluded, “The Obama administration has tried to
reform the council from within, but has failed. We should finally leave the
council and explore credible, alternative forums to advance human
Nossel argued, however, that changing the way the council worked
was a long-term project, and that it was important that America was there to
make that investment.
“It takes work and effort over time. The
shortcomings principally reflect a lack of political will on the part of the
membership of the council, so a lot of our work is focused on trying to build
that political will through dialogue and engagement,” she said. “We do think
that it’s important to come to the council, to make these arguments, to lay out
viewpoints on what we see as some critical issues.”
She added that it was
all the more important that the US be able to voice its opposition to the
treatment of Israel – which faces a permanent agenda item devoted to its alleged
abuses, as well as a special rapporteur on its treatment of the Palestinians –
because “there aren’t always others present who register those
The US and Israel coordinate closely and are in frequent
contact on Human Rights Council activity, according to Nossel.
that many have taken, even if they share our deep frustration and
dissatisfaction with the council’s treatment of Israel, is that it’s better to
have us on the inside than on the outside, that we’ve made some progress but
that there’s room for more progress, that the global debate on human rights is
an important one, and we don’t want to cede that ground to those who will work
against our interests and against Israel’s interests.”