Next week, on November 12, new members of the UN Human Rights Council will be elected. Among the candidates are nations that should never be allowed on the Council, and indeed whose presence will make the Council a mockery: Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam.
Perhaps the United States cannot prevent countries with the human rights records of these five from being elected. There are two things we should do, however. First, we should fight, trying to organize resistance to the election of any of these five human rights abusers. Even if they cannot be kept off, a very substantial number of no votes will be a useful embarrassment to them, showing that many countries condemn their records.
Second, we should announce that the United States will vote no on all five. The UN Human Rights Council was created in 2006 because the UN Human Rights Commission was a disgraceful mockery of support for human rights. Under the Bush administration the United States refused to join until the new entity proved itself to be different. In 2009 the Obama administration announced it would seek election, and did join the Council. The announced goal, part of the “new era of engagement” about which President Obama often spoke, was to strengthen both human rights and the Human Rights Council: then-UN ambassador Susan Rice stated at the time that “Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the Council to be balanced and credible.” The addition of human rights abusers like Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam does not make the Council more credible, and it makes the place more balanced only if the balance is supposed to be between human rights defenders and human rights abusers. If all five of these abusers are elected, the Council will be tilting hard toward abusers. The United States should say so.