14 countries were recently chosen to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Council, a forty-seven-member body. As usual, each country will serve a three-year term, from 2017 through 2019. Interestingly, Russia lost its bid for reelection. Less encouragingly, China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba all made the cut.
It's good to see the United States will be on the Council again. Washington did two terms on Mr. Obama's watch. Even though it's an election year, it's nice to see that Washington still understands the importance of actively participating in this multilateral body -- despite its many flaws.
In a Reuters piece, UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer noted that "[t]he re-election of China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia -- regimes which systematically violate the human rights of their citizens -- casts a shadow upon the reputation of the United Nations."
Here's part of a New York Times article on Friday's developments:
The Human Rights Council is politically influential. Its responsibilities include establishing panels to investigate human rights abuses in specific countries. Human rights advocates had hoped that the council would impanel an inquiry into rights abuses in Yemen. It was vigorously opposed by Saudi Arabia, which was re-elected Friday for another three-year seat.
While it's not incorrect to assert that the Council is politically influential, there also seem to be real limits to how much it can achieve. Sure, it's a venue that can help draw attention to egregious human rights violations -- but other atrocities are largely ignored. Besides, promoting or attempting to protect human rights doesn't necessarily mean that perpetrators will be held accountable, far from it. Nonetheless, this is a venue that the U.S and its allies must not ignore.
To put it mildly, these are turbulent times in American politics. The Obama administration deserves credit for recognizing the importance of Washington's continued involvement at the Council.