The United States will no longer shun the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Obama Administration announced today that it will seek a seat on the Council. More importantly, according to the Washington Post, New Zealand has offered to step aside in order to ensure that should the US bid for a seat on the Council, there will be little or no opposition.
The UN Human Rights Council was established in 2006.It resulted from an effort to overhaul the international human rights system, making it more relevant to today’s global political landscape given that the United Nations born after the Second World War has been transformed by the emergence of countries like Brazil, China, India and the Asian Tigers that are able to command significant attention on center stage. You can learn about the UN Human Rights Council by following this link.
In the recent past, the United States leaned towards a unilateralist foreign policy agenda while paying lip service to coordinated international action that complied with internationally-agreed upon principles and norms. This is a trend that has gone as far back as when President Ronald Reagan issued an executive order in 1981 authorizing US Coast Guard cutters to interdict Haitians sailing on the high seas to ensure their prompt return to Haiti, regardless of whether or not they had asylum claims that at first blush were valid and entitled them to more robust immigration hearings on US shores with the assistance of lawyers. Of late, more attention has justifiably been paid to the way that the US prosecuted the “war on terror,” a term which apparently the Administration has decided to no longer use to justify its involvement in the Middle East, in Iraq and in Afghanistan in particular.
President Obama promised to shake things up a little once in power. So far he’s definitely doing it. Recent appointments of human rights advocates at the State Department confirm that this is for real.
Michael Posner has been appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights. Mr. Posner, a fixture at Human Rights First for more than 30 years (which at its inception was called the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights), is well regarded amongst human rights advocates in the US and internationally. Harold Koh, Dean of the Yale University Law School, will join the staff of Hillary Clinton as her Senior Legal Advisor.
I have had the pleasure of working closely with both of these men in my former capacity as the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. The NCHR worked for years with Human Rights First (in its prior incarnation) to promote the rights of Haitian immigrants under US law, and to advocate for human rights in Haiti. My predecessor at the NCHR, the late Michael S. Hooper, worked for the Lawyers Committee before taking the helm at the NCHR.
Harold Koh’s posting at State will be his second. During President Clinton’s second term, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights. Before that, Koh valiantly took up the cause of Haitian refugees held in detention at the US naval base at Guantanamo. Together with Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights – which has successfully litigated against torture of “enemy combatants,” Koh led a team of young lawyers and students to challenge US policy towards Haitian refugees all the way to the Supreme Court. Their work was made infinitely more powerful by the strategies and support of immigration advocates that under the leadership of the NCHR waged a national and international campaign against Administration policies from 1991 to 1994.