Monday, April 10, 2006

The New UN Human Rights Council

OK, I'm back from my conference and a bit behind the news, but I wanted to mention an important development that occurred last week. US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton announced that the US will not seek a seat on the new human rights council as, according to Bolton, "[US] leverage in terms of the performance of the new council is greater by the US not running and sending the signal 'this is not business as usual' this year than if we were to run." The decision has been met with congressional criticism from both sides of the aisle as well as from human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which speculate that the decision reflects a fear that the US would not be able to receive a General Assembly majority (96 votes) to receive a seat on the council.

However, as noted in this memo from the Heritage Foundation and as I have previously argued, the council is deeply flawed. As noted in the memo:

The Failures of the Council

U.S. efforts to advance fundamental reform of the Human Rights Commission were blocked, and opponents of reform carried the day in the General Assembly. The final resolution creating the Human Rights Council contains many disappointing aspects:

  • There are no criteria for membership on the Council. New members of the Council will be elected by a simple majority of the General Assembly. No state, no matter how poor its human rights record, is barred from membership—even states under Security Council sanction are not excluded. UN member states are simply instructed that a state’s human rights record should be “taken into account” when they vote for prospective Council members. Some UN member states have pledged to oppose human rights abusers seeking Council membership, but they are unlikely to have the votes necessary to block their election.

  • The peer-review mechanism would not automatically affect eligibility for Council membership. While there is a periodic review requirement for Council members, the review is not tied to a mandatory outcome and there is no guarantee that even countries found complicit in massive and sustained human rights abuses would be censured. While there is a provision for suspending a Council member that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights, that step could be taken only with the agreement of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly. Not even 50 percent of the General Assembly could agree that Sudan was guilty of human rights violations in November 2005; reaching this threshold would be near impossible.

  • There is only a minimal reduction in membership from the old chr. Instead of a smaller, more streamlined body designed to attract the best members of each regional group, the resolution makes only a minimal reduction in membership, from 53 members to 47.

  • The resolution significantly shifts the balance of power away from the Western regional group. The African and Asian groups will hold 55 percent of the votes. The proportional representation of the Asian group will see the greatest increase, and the Western European and Others Group (which includes the United States) the greatest decline. Indeed, the Western group absorbed half of the total reduction of 6 seats, despite that the group is composed mostly of free democracies that observe fundamental human rights and freedoms and support those policies abroad. The end result is to reduce the voice of countries likely to promote human rights.

  • Special sessions of the Commission can be called by only one-third of the Council’s membership. Hailed as an improved capacity to deal with urgent human rights situations, the composition of the new Council will make it more likely that special sessions will be about the United States and Israel than about China or Sudan.

  • The Council has a mandate to follow up goals and commitments “emanating from U.N. conferences and summits.” Many of these do not have universal support and lack legal standing.

  • The resolution erodes the well-established standard of freedom of speech. A last-minute addition in response to the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Danish cartoons affair places an emphasis on roles and responsibilities rather than explicitly endorsing freedom of speech.

As I see it, the question is: Should the US join a flawed institution for the sake of multilateralism and try to effect change from within, or stay out of the council all together? I agree with Bolton and the administration in preferring the latter option. The UN human rights bodies have been some of the most ineffective and embarrasing examples of the failures and inadequacies of international law and the new council proves to be no different. China, Cuba, and Iran have already announced their intentions to run for seats, and there is no reason to think that some, if not all, of them will be voted in.

Furthermore, as the New York Times article cited above mentions, the US plans to observe the council, especially who is voted on to it, for a year and will consider running for a seat then. This gives the council a chance to self-regulate by enforcing even a bare minimum of human rights standards as criteria for membership. If it cannot, it can be surmised that the US would choose to avoid the council entirely.

Now, or a year from now, is as good a time as any for the US to start moving away from the sovereign equality of the UN and begin building some meaningful components of international society. Creating a human rights body outside of the UN structure that can offer some real incentives to join and comply would be a step that would advance both US and international interests. Let's hope that Bush and Bolton use this opportunity to accomplish something important rather than as an example of the kind of "senseless unilateralism" that Max Boot warns against.

1 comment:

Dragon Wizard said...

Dear Friends and Family,

Please read and forward to everyone you know, it will literally take just a few minutes to help:

Please ask your House Representatives to cosign this letter by contacting Justin at
202-225-2415 of Congressman Dana Rohrabacher's office. The sign on deadline is
April 14. Do not call Justin yourself- have the House Representatives call him.

Four Simple Steps:
2. type in your zip code
3. then choose your Representatives in the House (not Senate)
4. Either fax or email them this letter, requesting that they call Justin at 202-225-2415 to cosign Congressman Dana Rohrabacher's letter to President Bush.

Thank you!

From: CA46Intern1
Sent: Thursday, April 06, 2006 10:46 AM
To: Dear Colleague
Subject: Dear Colleague; Foreign Affairs; Human Rights; China


April 6, 2006

Investigate Charges of Illegal Organ Harvesting and Cremation in Chinese Death Camps

Letter asks President Bush for an investigation and an explanation from Hu Jintao

Dear Colleague,

Every once in a while an issue presents itself that we cannot ignore. Recent charges that Chinese authorities may be harvesting organs, without consent, from living human beings, from prisoners of conscience, is one of those issues.

Witnesses say captive Falun Gong adherents are shipped in sealed freight trains to secret concentration camp-like facilities that are staffed by surgeons and equipped with crematoriums to dispose of the corpses and other evidence. One military doctor reports: "I witnessed a specially-dispatched freight train transferring over 7,000 people in a trip from Tianjin city to the Jilin area. It ran at night, guarded by Chinese soldiers. Everyone on board was handcuffed to specially designed handrails atop the ceiling..."

He says there are about 36 such camps in China with the three largest in the northeastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning. The largest camp, codenamed "672-S," is said to hold over 120,000 people, including Falun Gong and other prisoners of conscience.

A former staff member of the "Liaoning Thrombus Treatment Center of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine" in the Sujiatun District of Shenyang City in Liaoning Province recounts that, at one point, about 6,000 Falun Gong practitioners were being held in secret in the facility. She estimates that three-quarters of them eventually had their hearts, kidneys, corneas, and skins harvested and their bodies disposed of. As for the rest, she fears the authorities will soon kill them to destroy the evidence.

Her husband at the time was a neurosurgeon whose job it was to harvest corneas. The doctors were told that harvesting the organs of live Falun Gong practitioners would not be considered a crime. Instead it was called "cleansing" for the sake of the Chinese Communist Party. "You don't understand my suffering," she recalls him telling her. "Those Falun Gong practitioners were alive. It might be easier for me if they were dead, but they were alive." Both witnesses have since left China, fearing for their own lives.

The reporter for Japanese television who first broke this story says Falun Gong practitioners are seen as a prime source of organs because of their nearly limitless supply-as many as two million are said to be currently held in China's vast system of labor camps and prisons. "They [CCP authorities] can't find enough bodies through executions, and no bodies are more readily available for this business than those of the practitioners," he explained. For other kinds of prisoners, even those on death row, organ removal would be difficult to take place without the proper paperwork. But due to the CCP's policy that the deaths of Falun Gong practitioners "count as suicide" and family members are usually not notified, hospitals remove their organs and cremate their bodies without any formal procedure or documentation! .

This may be the grisly reason why there is no waiting list for human organs in the PRC. The website for the just one transplant center, the Oriental Organ Transplantation Center in Tianjin (, says they "completed 2,248 cases of liver transplants in 2005." A graph of their "achievements" shows the number of procedures growing by leaps and bounds after 1999, the year the persecution of Falun Gong officially began.

The website for the China International Transplantation Network Assistance Center, some sort of quasi-governmental entity based in Shenyang,, boasts in its FAQ:  "It may take only one week to find out the suitable donor, the maximum time being one month because the kidney transplant needs to find a HLA tissue match...Our organs do not come from brain death victims because the state of the organ may not be good." Since the preservation time for a kidney for transplantation is only about 24 to 48 hours, such claims point to some sort of readily accessible source of fresh bodies, either newly killed or perhaps still alive at time of harvest. In general, organs that come from living bodies can command higher prices.

This site proudly announces:

"There are more than 35,000 kidney transplant operations that have been done in public hospitals in 29 cities, provinces and municipalities in China, and the number of kidney transplant operations is at least 5,000 every year all over the country. So many transplantation operations are owing to the support of the Chinese government. The Supreme Demotic Court, Supreme Demotic Law-officer, Police, Judiciary, Department of Health and Civil Administration have enacted a law together to make sure that organ donations are supported by the government. This is unique in the world."

The kind of moral complicity required for the non-consensual removal and sale of human organs is certainly unique. We as legislators, as statesmen and Americans, must not also become complicit in these crimes by keeping silent. History cares not whether we inked another trade deal or helped sell another Boeing 747, but history will judge us if we choose to look the other way when faced with truly indescribable human suffering on this scale.

We have a responsibility to have our President express America's strong wish to have a full investigation of these charges and demand an explanation from Chinese leader Hu Jintao during his upcoming visit and an agreement to allow on-site third-party investigations. I think you will agree this is the least we can do.

To sign on, please contact Justin at 202-225-2415. The sign on deadline is April 14.



Dana Rohrabacher