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By admitting its human rights problems, the US helps other nations admit theirs

When the US had its own human rights record reviewed by the UN, the usual repressive regimes took the opportunity to condemn others while glossing over their own abuses. But history shows that human rights reporting can and does advance the cause of human rights worldwide.

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Human rights are a growing area of diplomatic competition. Since the United Nations defined the playing field in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the list of countries that say nothing about human rights has dwindled to very few. Unfortunately, that will not prevent certain countries from trying to exploit the process.

On November 5, for example, when the US had its own human rights record reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council, the usual parade of speakers from repressive regimes that use the rhetoric of human rights to condemn failings in other countries while glossing over their own abuses was out in full force.

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A flawed, frustrating process?

This pattern frustrates US officials. After receiving comments from other countries, including Libya, a US official noted that “several recommendations are plainly intended as political provocations, and cannot be taken seriously.”

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