7 Invisible Footnotes to State's Official Line

Talk about trying to read between the lines. The Obama administration committed more than a few howlers in State Department spokesman Ian Kelly’s press release Tuesday on the United States’ election to a seat on the corrupt UN Human Rights Council.

For the sake of clarity and transparency, we hereby offer our services to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton by drawing out seven otherwise unspoken footnotes hidden in Kelly’s official 215 words and eight sentences.

The “invisible footnotes” might go like this:


Election of the United States to the Human Rights Council

U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC
May 12, 2009

Today the United Nations General Assembly elected the United States to a three-year term on the UN Human Rights Council.

[Invisible Footnote 1: The U.S. was “elected” to the Human Rights Council in the same sense that Saddam Hussein regularly got “elected” president of Iraq. The United Nations reserved three vacancies on the council for the region to which America is assigned, and exactly three candidates (the U.S., Belgium and Norway) presented themselves to fill the three seats. New Zealand kindly stepped aside when the U.S. indicated a desire to have one of the open seats. 

[This set a bad precedent. America and other countries in the West argued convincingly that each regional group should field more candidates than there are slots, to give the UN General Assembly some real choices when electing countries to the council. By ensuring a seat for the U.S., the group named Western European and Others ceded the moral high ground on calling for competitive elections. See Bridget Johnson, “U.S. wins seat on controversial Human Rights Council,” The Hill, May 12.]

The promotion and protection of human rights is a fundamental value for our own society and, as such, an integral element of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

[Invisible Footnote 2: As for China, however, Secretary of State Clinton already has noted that human rights “can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.” See “Working Toward Change in Perceptions of U.S. Engagement Around the World,”  a transcript on State’s Web site of Mrs. Clinton’s Feb. 20 roundtable with traveling press in Seoul, South Korea. The Obama administration also has made overtures to Cuba, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and other governments with deplorable human rights records. It has done so with seemingly little regard for how political dissidents and other victims of repressive regimes perceive the outreach.

[With regard to the Middle East, President Obama has not championed human rights per se. Rather, he has signaled that his administration will look at the region as a whole and communicate a message to the Arab and Muslim world that the U.S. is ready to initiate a new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest. See “Obama’s interview with Al Arabiya,”  a transcript of the president’s Jan. 27 session with correspondent Hisham Melhem of the Arab TV network.]

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Susan Rice are pleased with the outcome of the election and eager to take up the important work of the council.

[Invisible Footnote 3: This “important work” apparently includes the five special sessions the human rights panel has held since replacing the discredited UN Human Rights Commission in 2006, and the 22 resolutions it has adopted, all for the sole purpose of denouncing Israel. Those 22 denunciations amount to over 80 percent of the council’s nation-specific resolutions.  Indeed, Israel’s human rights violations apparently are so chronic that the subject is the only permanent item on the council’s agenda.

[The council’s important work, however, doesn’t include confronting human rights abuses in Algeria, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Syria or Zimbabwe. The panel has declined to look into cases in those countries. Apart from Israel, the council has held just three special sessions on specific human rights complaints — one each for Sudan, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Even then, the panel spared those governments the harsh language it used to characterize the actions of Israel. See “Special sessions of the Human Rights Council,” on the panel’s Web site.]

When the United Nations was formed, it sent a powerful and historic message by placing human rights at the very core of its charter.

[Invisible Footnote 4: Actually, the UN Charter provides only a limited mandate to promote and protect human rights. It’s a mandate without any enforcement mechanism, especially compared to the mandate to protect international peace and security. See UN Charter, Chapter 1.]

To fulfill that mission, we strongly believe that all member states must work to ensure that the United Nations offers a credible, balanced and effective forum for advancing human rights.

[Invisible Footnote 5: The UN Human Rights Council consistently has proven it is not and cannot be “a credible, balanced and effective forum for advancing human rights.” Serial human rights violators such as Cuba, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are current — and seemingly perennial — members of the council. The Organization of the Islamic Conference exerts effective control over much of the council’s proceedings. See Brett D. Schaefer, “The Obama Administration Will Not Make the UN Human Rights Council Effective,” May 11.]

The United States sought a seat on the UN Human Rights Council at this time to underscore our commitment to human rights and to join the efforts of all those nations seeking to make the council a body that fulfills its promise.

[Invisible Footnote 6: The State Department’s announcement that the U.S. would seek a council seat likely was an attempt to garner favor with European allies and assuage human rights activists outraged over the Bush administration’s decision not to pursue a seat. Also, the move possibly was a tactic to deflect criticism from the Obama administration’s announcement that the U.S. would boycott the so-called Durban II conference on world racism.

[The administration announced the Durban II decision at the same time it said it would reverse the Bush policy of disengaging from the human rights panel and acting instead as an observer. See “U.S. Posture Toward the Durban Review Conference and Participation in the UN Human Rights Council,” a transcript of acting State spokesman Robert Wood’s Feb. 27 remarks.]

We deeply appreciate the support of all UN member states that endorsed our bid.  We pledge to work closely with the international community to ensure that together we address the pressing human rights concerns of our time.

[Invisible Footnote 7:  America indeed may work with allies to “address the pressing human rights concerns of our time,” but that work will not be successfully advanced by the UN panel. See Brett D. Schaefer, “UN Human Rights Council Whitewash Argues Against U.S. Participation,” April 2.

[The dominant nations purposefully and systematically set out to reduce the number of country-specific mandates.  Cuba and Belarus are just two examples. At the same time, the dominant nations shamelessly water down a mechanism for “universal periodic review.” This was supposed to be the crown jewel of — what else? — the 2006 reform creating the Human Rights Council.]