US releases human rights pledges in anticipation of UN council vote

[JURIST] The US State Department [official website] released [press release] Monday its commitments and pledges [text; PDF] as part of its campaign to gain a seat on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website]. All countries attempting to be elected to the body, which holds elections every year for three-year terms, are invited to outline their national commitments to human rights and how they will further those goals internationally through the UNHRC. The US pledge, which is voluntary, contains the following commitments:

1. Commitment to advancing human rights in the UN system;

2. Commitment to continue support to human rights activities in the UN system;

3. Commitment to advancing human rights, fundamental freedoms and human dignity and prosperity internationally; and

4. Commitment to advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms in the United States.
The pledge also contains monetary commitments to be made to the UN in furtherance of its human rights goals. The US has never before sought a seat on the UNHRC. Other countries likely to gain posts on the council are China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Cuba. Of those, only Cuba released a pledge [CNS report]. The voting, which is mostly a formality due to the lack of competition [official candidate list] in most regions besides Eastern Europe, will take place May 12.

The US announced its intent to seek a seat on the council [JURIST report] in early April, hoping to affect more change by working from inside the council than by boycotting the effort. The UNHRC was created [JURIST report] in 2006, at which time the Bush administration declined to seek a Council seat or participate in its proceedings. In February, human rights groups and politicians criticized the Obama administration for apparently continuing the Bush policy, after the State Department remained silent [JURIST report] during the most recent UNHRC universal periodic review (UPR) [materials]. State Department spokesperson Robert Wood defended the delegates' silence, saying that the US was not actively participating because the Obama administration was still deciding how it wanted to interact with the Council. Wood said that the US had representatives attending and monitoring the UPR sessions, and that its abstention from the reviews did not mean that human rights were not a priority for the administration.

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