The Obama administration on Tuesday reversed yet another Bush administration policy by deciding to seek a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, which has been criticized repeatedly for being anti-Israel while ignoring abuses in Sudan, Syria, Iran, Cuba and other countries.
“The decision is in keeping with the Obama administration’s ‘new era of engagement’ with other nations to advance American security interests and meet the global challenges of the 21st century,” the State Department said.
“With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system to advance the vision of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. “We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.”
The announcement drew predictable praise from congressional Democrats and condemnation from Republicans.
“I strongly support the administration’s decision,” said Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This global forum has become increasingly dysfunctional and politicized, with virtually no guidance from the United States.”
Mr. Berman’s ranking member on the committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, said U.S. participation in the body “must be conditioned on significant structural reforms to bar human rights violators from membership.”
She decried the council’s “anti-Israel bias,” which she said was again on display last week. “The council passed five separate resolutions condemning Israel and another calling for restrictions on free expression. Yet, it ignored real human rights abuses in Iran, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and other dictatorships.”
Mr. Berman said that “the council’s pathological focus on demonizing Israel” is all the more reason for the U.S. to participate.
The Geneva-based council replaced the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which most U.N. members felt had become too inefficient and lost its purpose.