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Kofi Annan: Despite flaws, UN Human Rights Council can bring progress

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Some say that by enabling authoritarian states to be elected as members, the Council’s effectiveness is diminished. They argue further that the time and effort expended to improve the Council’s methods is not worth the incremental progress. Instead, they believe democratic states should not use up their diplomatic capital at the Council, but seek instead to advance human rights in other forums.

It is true that the Council has not always lived up to its potential and that at times the diplomatic effort it requires is time consuming and difficult. But these are not sufficient reasons to give up on it. Imagine an ostensibly global human rights body that was only accountable to and representative of a handful of countries. It could not credibly or effectively speak out against or influence human rights situations in much of the world. 

In the midst of the Arab Spring, the Human Rights Council – backed by the UN General Assembly’s universal membership – voted unanimously to suspend Libya’s membership. The Council has also condemned Syria’s human rights violations by a strong majority vote, forced it to withdraw its bid for a seat, and appointed an investigation into human rights violations there. The Council’s actions were seen as legitimate because they were supported by a globally representative body.

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