PDF _ RL33608 - The United Nations Human Rights Council: Issues for Congress
18-Sep-2007; Luisa Blanchfield ; 33 p.

Update: Previous releases:
July 25, 2007

Abstract: On March 15, 2006, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution replacing the Commission on Human Rights with a new Human Rights Council (the Council). The U.N. Secretariat and some governments, including the United States, view the establishment of the Council as a key component of comprehensive U.N. reform. The Council was designed to be an improvement over the Commission, which was widely criticized for the composition of its membership when perceived human rights abusers were elected as members. The General Assembly resolution creating the Council, among other things, increases the number of meetings per year, reduces the number of Council seats from 53 to 47, and introduces a “universal periodic review” process to assess each Member State’s fulfillment of its human rights obligations.

One hundred seventy countries voted in favor of the resolution to create the Council. The United States was one of four countries to vote against the resolution, stating that the Council was no better than the Commission and that it lacked mechanisms for “maintaining credible membership.” Despite these initial concerns, the Administration has said it will continue to fund and support the work of the Council. It also decided the United States would not run in the first Council elections held in May 2006. In March 2007, the State Department announced that the United States would not run for a seat in the second Council elections held in May 2007. Currently, the United States is an observer to the Council and has no voting rights.

One hundred seventy countries voted in favor of the resolution to create the Council. The United States was one of four countries to vote against the resolution, stating that the Council was no better than the Commission and that it lacked mechanisms for “maintaining credible membership.” Despite these initial concerns, the Administration has said it will continue to fund and support the work of the Council. It also decided the United States would not run in the first Council elections held in May 2006. In March 2007, the State Department announced that the United States would not run for a seat in the second Council elections held in May 2007. Currently, the United States is an observer to the Council and has no voting rights.

The reaction of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights groups, and governments to the new Council can be described as cautiously optimistic. Generally, they believe the new Council is an improvement over the Commission, but are disappointed with some aspects of the Council’s work during its first year. Some NGOs and governments, including the United States, are particularly concerned with the Council’s initial focus on Israel.

Congress maintains an ongoing interest in the credibility and effectiveness of the Council in the context of both human rights and broader U.N. reform. Some Members, for example, have proposed legislation that would withhold Council funding if certain criteria are not met. Due to the nature of U.N. budget mechanisms, withholding Council funds would be a largely symbolic gesture and may have little or no effect on the Council’s operational work. It is expected that interest in this issue will continue in the 110th Congress as the Council enters its second year and expected U.N. reform efforts move forward. This report will be updated as events warrant.

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Topics: International, Population, Government

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