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Obama's moment on human rights

The US should make joining the UN Human Rights Council a priority.

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After eight years of neglect, President-elect Barack Obama is eager to have the United States re-engage with the United Nations. A good way to begin would be to join the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

President Bush snubbed the preeminent international human rights policymaking body when it was established in 2006, with disastrous results. A speedy reversal by Mr. Obama would give hope to moderate governments that yearn for a stronger UN human rights program. It would also invigorate the entire UN system, generate goodwill, and encourage others to help with tough policy challenges like Guantanamo Bay.

There is no time to be lost.

Dec. 10 is the 60th anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it will not be much of a celebration. The UN's human rights program has been badly weakened by an ill-advised reform and by America's absence from the Human Rights Council.

Until 2006, UN human rights policy was made by the Human Rights Commission, a body of 53 governments that included Sudan and Zimbabwe. Sudan's membership, at the peak of the genocide in Darfur, caused outrage in Washington and prompted calls for reform. The commission was voted out of existence in 2005 and replaced by the council.


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