Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"U.S. elected to U.N. rights council for first time"

The Washington Post reports:
The United States won election to the U.N. Human Rights Council for the first time on Tuesday, joining 17 other nations picked for the body, after the Obama administration ended a U.S. policy of boycotting it.
Recall that in the United Nations there is a convention that Council such as the Security Council are more powerful than Commissions such as the Commission on Science and Technology for Development. In the recent reorganization, the "Human Rights Commission" was upgraded to the "Human Rights Council" in an effort to increase the quality of UN attention to human rights issues. The United States was a member of the Human Rights Commission in the past, but did not seek membership in the Council under the Bush administration. Thus this is in fact the first election of the United States to the Human Rights Council.

The State Department issued a press release stating:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice are pleased with the outcome of the election and eager to take up the important work of the Council.

When the United Nations was formed, it sent a powerful and historic message by placing human rights at the very core of its charter. To fulfill that mission, we strongly believe that all member states must work to ensure that the United Nations offers a credible, balanced and effective forum for advancing human rights.

The United States sought a seat on the UN Human Rights Council at this time to underscore our commitment to human rights and to join the efforts of all those nations seeking to make the Council a body that fulfills its promise.
One of the early acts of the United Nations General Assembly was to issue the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted under the leadership of the U.S, delegate to the Human Rights Commission, Eleanor Roosevelt, and with the assistance of UNESCO.

While the Declaration did not have the force of a treaty, it has had enormous moral influence in the six decades since it was issued. It has also been the basis for a number of Human Rights Covenants and Conventions that do have the force of treaties.
Over the past sixty years, UNESCO, in cooperation with the international community, has achieved significant progress in the implementation of the four rights which figure in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which are directly within its fields of competence:

* Right to education (Article 26) ;
* Right to take part in cultural life (Article 27) ;
* Right to freedom of opinion and expression including the right to seek, receive and impart information (Article 19) ;
* Right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications (Article 27)......

Within UNESCO, the protection of human rights is assured by the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, working alongside the countries concerned. Relatively unknown, this committee examines cases and issues relating to complaints of alleged violations of human rights. From 1948 to 2007, amongst 545 cases that have been examined by the committee, 344 have been settled.
The decision of the Obama administration to seek membership in the Human Rights Council, together with President Obama's statement of support for UNESCO suggests that there may be increased U.S. support for UNESCO's human rights efforts.

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