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US abandons UN human rights body

Sophie Picheta June 9, 2008

The United States has announced plans to distance itself from the United Nations Human Rights council – an action that has been said to “fail victims of abuse.”

Human Rights Watch called the decision to no longer attend regular Human Rights Council meetings an “abandonment” of human rights defenders and victims.

Although never a member of the Human Rights Council, the United States often took part in debates and discussions as an involved observer.

At a State Department briefing on Friday, it was announced that the US will only participate in debates at the Council on matters of “deep national interest.”

The United States did not take part in Friday’s Council discussion about Burma, highlighting the extent of their withdrawal.

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said that the country’s participation would be “ad hoc.”

I’m not going to try to tie our hands diplomatically one way or the other.”

He also spoke of his scepticism of the UN Council when it comes to “fulfilling its mandate and its mission.”

Instead of focusing on some of the real and deep human rights issues around the world, it has really turned into a forum that seems to be almost solely focused on bashing Israel.”

In 2006, the Council voted to make suspected human rights abuses by Israel a point of discussion at every meeting.

But the plans voiced by McCormack to take a “more reserved approach in terms of engaging the council” have be criticised by the Human Rights Watch advocacy director Juliette de Rivero, who called them “counter-productive” and “short-sighted.”

Washington’s hands-off approach to the Human Rights Council undermined it from the start,” said de Rivero.

It’s ironic that the US shares responsibility for the shortcomings it’s now using to justify further distancing itself from the council.”

Humans Rights Watch also drew attention to the lack of viable alternatives available to the Council, and noted the human rights record of the United States with regards to their counter-terrorism efforts, which undermined its credibility at the council.

The United States failed to cooperate with human rights experts from the council, who were investigating its Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Despite this, having the United States at the table was seen as very important in building a stronger Council.

This decision is a victory for abusive states and a betrayal of those fighting for their rights worldwide,” said de Rivero.

Instead of ceding the field to those who want to shield abusers from scrutiny, the US should have redoubled its efforts to make the council work as it should.”

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