Explanation of Vote by John F. Sammis, Deputy Representative to the Economic and Social Council, in the General Assembly on the Human Rights Council Review

John F. Sammis
United States Deputy Representative to ECOSOC 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
June 17, 2011


Thank you, Mr. President. In Geneva and New York, the United States has repeatedly urged our fellow members to join us in conducting a thorough, comprehensive review of the Human Rights Council that would significantly improve its ability to meet its core mission: promoting and protecting human rights.

Unfortunately, the Geneva process failed to yield even minimally positive results, forcing us to dissociate from the outcome. We appreciate the work that the co-facilitators have done in New York over the past months, but the final resolution before us also fails to address the core problems that still plague the Human Rights Council. We deeply regret that this opportunity has been missed. The United States has therefore voted “no” on the resolution.

The Council has had many significant achievements in recent weeks; including a historic resolution highlighting the human rights abuses faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons around the world, a special session on Syria, the Commission of Inquiry in Libya, and the historic creation of a Special Rapporteur to investigate human rights violations in Iran. But the Council’s effectiveness and legitimacy will always be compromised so long as one country in all the world is unfairly and uniquely singled out while others, including chronic human rights abusers, escape scrutiny.

The gravest of the Council’s structural problems remains its politicized standing Agenda Item 7 on Israel. No member state during this Review has been able to explain how Item 7 is consistent with the principles clearly outlined in the resolution that established the Human Rights Council: “impartiality, non-selectiveness, and balance.” This Review should have eliminated this unfair and unbalanced Agenda Item and instead ensured that all member states, including Israel, are treated on an equal and impartial basis. The Review is over, but this struggle is not. My government will continue to fight to remove this item and the biased and unfair resolutions that flow from it.

This Review also failed to tackle another fundamental issue: Council membership. The Council discredits, dishonors, and diminishes itself when the worst violators of human rights have a seat at its table. During the Review in New York, the United States put forward a proposal to ensure that GA members have real choices in Human Rights Council elections by calling on all regional groups, including our own, to run competitive slates. This was rejected out of hand. We were also dismayed that another much more modest proposal, which simply called on candidate states to hold an interactive dialogue about their human rights records with member states and civil society groups, was also blocked. These failures to address the critical problem of membership do a serious disservice to the Council and to the brave men and women around the world standing up for their universal rights. Let there be no doubt: membership on the Human Rights Council should be earned through respect for human rights, not accorded to those who abuse them.

Mr. President, when the United States ran for a seat on the Council in 2009, we made clear that we did so precisely to strengthen the Council from within, through direct and sustained engagement. That is what we have done, and that is what we will continue to do. Sadly, today’s resolution marks a major missed opportunity for the Council to right historic wrongs. The resolution before us today does nothing to address the Council’s failures nor move it any closer to the founding values of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States remains firmly committed to working to reform the Human Rights Council and change it for the better. We will continue to work with fellow member states, session by session and resolution by resolution, to advance respect for the rights we hold dear. But we will not acquiesce in perpetuating a failed status quo that we all know leaves this institution performing well below its potential. At a time when people around the world are risking their lives for freedom in dramatic numbers and especially dangerous circumstances, those who share a commitment to the universal rights of all men and women can do no less.

At the same time, we hope that one day soon, we will be able to act together to redress the fundamental flaws of this Council and fulfill its commitment to promote “universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner.” Thank you, Mr. President.


PRN: 2011/121