Why the UN Human Rights Council Can’t Be Reformed

Last week, the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, announced that he intends to bring America back into the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), where it will join representatives of some of the world’s most brutal despots. Although Blinken was straightforward about addressing the body’s problems, including the fact that it tends to ignore the most serious human-rights abuses while obsessively producing condemnations of Israel, he argued that American involvement will be “the best way to improve the council.” Gerald Steinberg believes this hope is poorly placed:

The structure of the UNHRC is largely impervious to change, reflecting the nature of the UN with its 193 member states, and the built-in majority for autocracies; the dictatorships Russia, China, Cuba, and Venezuela are among the [council’s] current members.

The [anti-Israel] bias is also built into the permanent agenda, specifically item seven, which concerns “the human-rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” ensuring that every quarterly session will include attacks against Israel. No other single issue, conflict, or country has its own permanent agenda item, and it is under this framework that the majority of the council’s anti-Israel reports and resolutions are adopted. Here again, the ability of the U.S. (joined perhaps by a few courageous allies, depending on the council’s membership in a particular year) to change this is essentially non-existent.

The lack of allies for change, particularly among Western Europeans, is another obstacle. In most anti-Israel votes, the best that the EU representatives can agree on is to abstain, which has very little significance.

The structural factors are also reflected in the political biases of many of the officials and employees who make up its secretariat. As noted, in order to be elected, candidates [for these staff positions] must be ideologically acceptable to the majority of UN member states, as in the case of the current high commissioner, Michelle Bachelet.

It is these permanent staff members that dictate the council’s agenda and compose the reports that inform its work.

Read more at Fathom

More about: Antony Blinken, Human Rights, U.S. Foreign policy, UNHRC, United Nations


To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy