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A New Era of Engagement

Nahal Zamani,
Human Rights Program
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April 1, 2009

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced that it would reverse a Bush administration decision and make bid to join the United Nations Human Rights Council, “with the goal of working to make it a more effective body to promote and protect human rights.” The Council is the highest human rights body within the U.N., composed of 47 countries working to promote and strengthen human rights worldwide. It replaced the historical U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2006, but was voted against by the Bush administration along with the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Israel. Countries bid for election for membership within the Council. Terms last for three years, and the elections are scheduled for mid-May.

This move is promising, as it affirms the administration’s commitment to human rights at home and abroad and breaks with the Bush administration’s disastrous unilateral approach — especially in the area of human rights. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice calls it “new era of engagement,” and we couldn’t agree more.

In a press release released yesterday, Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program noted:

We gladly welcome the decision of the Obama administration to join the U.N. Human Rights Council…By restoring and protecting human rights in this country, America will once again become a nation that leads by example. From this position, we are hopeful the U.S. will help make the Council an effective body for protecting the rights of all people around the world.

The next regular session of the Human Rights Council will be held from June 2 to 18. Two reports will be presented by independent human rights experts appointed by the Council who conducted official country visits to the U.S. last year: the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Doudou Diene, and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston. The ACLU provided information to and briefed the rapporteurs, so their reports are of particular interest to our work.

We look forward to the Obama administration’s constructive engagement with the council and other global human rights bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and hope that human rights will be central not only in U.S. foreign policy but also in domestic policy.

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