Stewart M. Patrick

The Internationalist

Patrick assesses the future of world order, state sovereignty, and multilateral cooperation.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


The UN Human Rights Council: Five Things to Know

by Stewart M. Patrick
February 29, 2012

Overview of the U.N. Human Rights Council during the emergency debate on human rights and humanitarian situation in Syria, at the United Nations in Geneva February 28, 2012. (Denis Balibouse/ Courtesy Reuters)


The UN Human Rights Council has taken an increasingly prominent role in pressing for global action on the Syrian crisis. In the latest installment of the Internationalist Video Series, I explain how this furthers the revival of the world’s preeminent rights body, which replaced a discredited rights commission. Watch below for the five things you need to know about the reconstituted forum:

Watch this video on youtube here.

  • In 2006, the United Nations decided to dissolve the UN Commission on Human Rights, “which had become a haven for human rights abusers and an embarrassment.” The Obama administration chose to join the forty-seven-member council, “rather than allowing human rights violators and spoilers from Cuba to Pakistan to run roughshod over it.”
  • Despite important improvements, the Council maintains some serious flaws, ranging from procedural roadblocks like membership criteria to political tensions between civil and political rights and economic rights.
  • Regardless of these flaws, the Council’s new “universal periodic review” has been a powerful instrument for advancing human rights across the world, from Iran to Zimbabwe.
  • A little-known fact is the important addition of term limits to Council membership. This will force countries like Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia to “take a time-out from the Council” when their terms expire this year. Now the worst abusers cannot “fester on the Council.”
  • Council membership has had some crucial payoffs for the United States, including exerting pressure on Iran and Syria, and taking the lead with the United States against the former Libyan regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi.



Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Kir Komrik


    Thanks for putting out matters of global rule of law for transparent public discussion.

    You noted that:

    “In the latest installment of the Internationalist Video Series, I explain how this furthers the revival of the world’s preeminent rights body, which replaced a discredited rights commission. Watch below for the five things you need to know about the reconstituted forum: … ”

    I abide any support one can give the UN but, I am sorry to say, the UN is worse than the Articles of Confederation that the fomer colonies suffered under for some mercifully brief 10 years.

    Human rights violators will act with impunity as long as we continue kicking this can, this global federation can, down that pathetic 1000 year-old road of mass human misery and suffering that kings and potentates cannot seem to competently address after such a long, long time working at it ad nausea.

    In the management of human society future observers could well regard this as mass criminal negligence. Speaking of step-wise solutions that move us closer to genuine global rule of law is half-baked, weak and disingenuous in my unpopular opinion.

    We need to pool our resources and support genuine, global rule of law under a federal design. Complaining that this is not realistic or cannot be done “so fast” is unimaginative and defeatist in my view. There certainly *are* creative ways that the highly heterogenous landscape of ideological belief and tradition can be bridged by clever systems of law and economics. Denying this and continuing to support piecemeal approaches such as those of the UN could likewise be viewed by future observers as criminal negligence.

    I am weary of inaction and am thoroughly unconvinced that the “public is not ready for this” or any other such pablum. The purveyors of public myth have managed to demonize cigarette smokers so nastily one cannot deny that public persuasion for the need for global rule of law is in fact well within reach. It’s time to put the Machiavellian circus act into action.

    Please stop apologizing and offer USG some serious, hard-hitting advice on how the general public can be prepared for this notion and how USG can lead an effort to bring the greatest minds in law and economics extant together to figure this out. Listen to me now, hear me later: the future of humanity absolutely depends on it.

    My words are to encrouage and inspire, not to disparage. Its up to people like you now, the people of CFR. We are counting on you.

    – kk

  • Posted by Eric Majola

    The UNHRC somewhat requires a minor restructuring .
    My view for it to be effective 1) it must have independent and non- biased council members from the countries within the UN . The aim would be to incorporate different human rights concepts from different countries .

    If I had time I would elaborate on this .

    2) It should nominate a credible and respected individual like
    a former head of state as a chair for the committee say every 2yrs.

    3) It should act as an entity that seeks to advise countries on human rights issues rather than an imposer .
    4) The aim for no 3 would be to offer assistance in countries that
    seek to improve the human right efforts .
    5) It should seek to abide by the UN charter and by a new sub -charter that seek to engage countries rather alienate them.

    This what I think , the main for it to gain credibility would be to
    to act as an advisor to states as per human rights concerns.

    Kindly ,
    Eric Majola

  • Posted by James Henderson

    The Respectable Eric Majola might be right
    when it comes to minor restructuring .

    As confront economic challenges in the West , the emerging economies are likely to want to have a say in as per human rights.

    Important to note that some of these economies have an appaling
    record where human right are concerned .

    The UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL will need to adopt what we call private quiete diplomacy to handle human rights issues in countries that champion their national interests and seem to disregard the basic rights of others . We can’t and must never turn a blind on Israel’s record as per Palestinians are concerned .. Same applies to Syria , Iran , Sudan, China and other countries .
    But you can’t handle this by shouting from the rooftop .

    The council must deliberate on the comments above and act on them .
    The emerging economies in time won’t make things easy for the West and it’s allies as they might take a lead to resolve this and where the West slacks China and eventually the BRICSAM
    countries will take precedence .

    The sun has always risen the EAST but shone in and radiatiated in West without setting , It is about divert that radiation Sourthern Hermisphere whilst maintaining the strength in the East ..
    The west must lead by in this restructuring even if it means Mr Patrick the cfr seek new ideas and talents . I hope this blog serve such a purpose..

    Prof J.Henderson

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required