Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In the Interest of Human Rights: Thoughts concerning the United Nations Human Rights Program in 2016

By Ilene Friedman, UNANCA Human Rights Committee Member

The UNA-NCA in partnership with the American Foreign Service Association will be co-hosting a forum on the United Nations Human Rights Program in 2016 this Wednesday, January 27th—featuring Dr. Wesley Reisser, Senior Foreign Affairs Officer at the Department of State, and Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow from the Brookings Institution.

This year is the United States mandatory year off from the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). The United States has been on the HRC for the past six years and after serving two terms, according to the HRC charter, the country is not eligible for immediate re-election.
In a hot topic article addressing the “5 Myths about the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Mr. Piccone addresses five major “myths” about the Council, including ideas that the Council’s current membership is fatally stacked against human rights, with power politics playing a huge role in Council elections, as well as the claim that the Council ignores the worst cases of human rights abuses in favor of “softer” topics, like elderly and children. He also addresses the idea that the United States would be more effective on human rights if it cut its losses at the UN and did not return to the HRC.

 "Everyone needs to go on mandatory vacation sometimes - including countries on the HRC. But what happens then?"

Dr. Reisser will lead tomorrow’s exciting event, focusing on the US perspective on the UN human rights program and exploring the major challenges currently facing the program. Following that, Mr. Piccone will add further perspective to the discussion.

Here are a few notes of interest on some countries tied in with the HRC in preparation for the event—a little “know before you go:”

  • Syria – You may know it as the Civil War ridden state causing an influx of refugees around the world. Both the UN and the U.S. are not too happy with the current situation in the country. The UN has recently called for an immediate end to the violence and release of political prisoners. Meanwhile, the US is involved in a proxy-war with Russia while continuing to battle ISIS in the region. One question of many: with all this war and violence, what is happening to the people on the ground?

  • Iran – You may know it as the place where the U.S. finally lifted its sanctions, thanks to a nuclear deal last summer. However, the big news for the Human Rights community is that Iran released four Iranian-Americans in an apparent prisoner swap with the United States. This is a big deal because the UN Human Rights Council has been reminding Iran of its responsibility to ensure that no one is prosecuted or detained because of their religious views, along with numerous other human rights concerns – think: restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom to assemble, along with discrimination against women and ethnic minorities.

  • Burma/Myanmar – The place where a Nobel Prize winner just became President and won democracy for the country. Issues here? Daw Aung San Suu Kyi just inherited the worst ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s Muslim minority called the Rohingya. No one is showing much interest in the abuse of over one million Rohingya people, which a displeased HRC claims as part of the “crimes against humanity under international criminal law.”

  • DPRK – North Korea, the place that just tested an “H-bomb,” is definitely on the U.S. and UN Human Rights radar. The United Nations Commission of inquiry discovered major human rights violations in the region, including “the right to food, those associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to life, freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states.”

We look forward to seeing you tomorrow!