Torture in Cuba
May 2009
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Posted on Tuesday, 05.19.09
Rights Council needs to improve its record
OUR OPINION: U.S. has work cut out for it in trying to reform United
Nations agency

The Obama administration's decision to join the 47-member U.N. Human
Rights Council is a welcome sign that the United States will try to use
this forum to make a difference in protecting human rights around the
world. No one should harbor any illusions, however, about the Council
itself or the difficulty of improving its work.

Appeasing Castro

As former Czech President Vaclav Havel wrote recently, the Council's
membership includes some of the worst human-rights abusers on the
planet. For that you can blame either the indifference of other
countries, which determine membership by selection in regional blocs,
or, more likely, political expediency. Cuba — to cite one outrageous
example — was allowed to regain its seat with the assent of neighboring
countries. Either democracies in Latin America didn't care enough to put
up a fight or simply weren't willing to offend the Castro government,
which amounts to the same thing.

Cuba's inclusion makes a mockery of the Council's supposed commitment to
''uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human
rights.'' And it only makes matters worse when the U.N.'s top official
at the HRC, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, tries to
justify this inexcusable state of affairs by making the thoroughly
absurd comment that nobody's perfect.

''Is there any country that has a blemish-free record?'' she asked.

Of course not. But there is a vast difference between countries where
citizens have a right to defend themselves against occasional violations
of human dignity and countries where repression and persecution are
essential means of governing. If Ms. Pillay can't tell the difference,
she needs to enroll in a refresher course on human rights.

Take the lead

Even though the membership of the Council is badly flawed, the United
States cannot remain indifferent to the agency's work and purpose. The
U.S. decision to seek membership reverses the Bush administration's
decision to essentially boycott the Council, which represented a
confrontational approach to the agency's work.

Simply being on the Council won't mean much if the United States doesn't
take a leading role in pursuing a genuine human-rights agenda, though.

Whether the issue is torture or the rights of children or the rights of
women, the administration needs to set the example by its own conduct
and by a commitment to pursue the issues in every way possible.

U.S. diplomats, led by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, should work to
assemble a coalition of like-minded countries to give the Council
greater credibility, even when it means embarrassing other Council
members for their abysmal records.

Rights Council needs to improve its record – Editorials – (19 May 2009)

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