United Nations Human Rights Council

The U.N. General Assembly established the Human Rights Council in 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights, which was criticized for its ineffectiveness in addressing human rights abuses and for the number of widely perceived human rights abusers that served as its members. Since 2006, many governments and observers have expressed serious concerns with the Council’s disproportionate attention to Israel and apparent lack of attention to other pressing human rights situations.

In particular, some criticize the inclusion of the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” (Israel) as a permanent item on the Council’s agenda. Some are also concerned that countries widely perceived as human rights abusers, such as Saudi Arabia, China, and Venezuela, have served (or are serving) as Council members.

On the other hand, supporters argue that the Council is an improvement over the previous commission. They contend that the Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, which aims to evaluate each member state’s fulfillment of its human rights obligations, is a useful means for addressing human rights issues. Many observers are encouraged by the Council’s increased attention to human rights situations in countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

Over the years, U.S. policymakers have debated U.S. participation in and funding of the Council. The George W. Bush Administration voted against the General Assembly resolution creating the Council and did not run for membership (as it had as a member of the previous Commission on Human Rights); it also decided to withhold U.S. funding to the organization in FY2008 under a provision enacted by Congress. Conversely, the Obama Administration supported the overall purpose of the Council and decided that it was better to work from within as a member to improve Council effectiveness. The Obama Administration was also critical of the Council’s focus on Israel, sometimes boycotting debates on the issue. The United States was elected to the Council in 2009 and in 2012. In October 2016, it was elected for a third term, which began in January 2017. The United States remained a member during the Trump Administration until mid-2018, when it withdrew.   Purchase this volume