March 11, 2011

Congress Clashes over U.S. Participation at the Human Rights Council

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

The Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), opposes U.S. participation at the UN Human Rights Council

Washington D.C. – Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee clashed over U.S. participation in the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) last week at a hearing highlighting partisan divides.  Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and fellow Republicans criticized the Obama Administration for joining the HRC, reversing the Bush Administration’s policy of rejecting the human rights body. 

“We need to remain engaged. The U.S. has played a leading role in creating an international human rights council that has had a real impact,” testified Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution.  Piccone highlighted that, through U.S. participation and support at the HRC, Sweden and other countries are working this month to establish a human rights monitor on Iran. 

Human rights organizations, Iranian human rights defenders like Shirin Ebadi, and groups including the National Iranian American Council have all strongly supported the establishment of a UN human rights monitor on Iran to address abuses occurring there.

Other witnesses at the hearing included Mark Wallace, President of United Against Nuclear Iran, an organization dedicated to expanding and enforcing broad sanctions against Iran.  In discussing Iran, Wallace did not mention the human rights monitor effort.  Instead, he focused on calling for further sanctions, stating, “harsher sanctions are the best sanctions.”  “We can do much more,” Wallace said. “Any company that is doing business with Iran should come clean.”

Ros-Lehtinen, who became Chairwoman of the foreign affairs panel when Republicans took the majority in the House, is an ardent supporter of unilateral sanctions and has said that her committee’s top priority would be Iran.

Human rights organizations have argued that the human rights situation in Iran and elsewhere can only be addressed effectively by working with the international community through bodies like the Human Rights Council.  However, Ros-Lehtinen is reportedly drafting legislation to block U.S. funding for the UN and to make it illegal for the U.S. to run for reelection at the HRC.

In February, 24 Democratic Senators wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and called for the U.S. to support a human rights monitor on Iran while endorsing the Administration’s multilateral approach to human rights in a letter strongly supported by NIAC.  The international effort to establish a human rights monitor on Iran is now expected to come to a vote at the HRC in late March and is being supported by a broad, cross regional group of states.  A monitor on Iran was in place from 1986 to 2002, but the mandate has not since been renewed.  





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