On Monday, Hillary Clinton issued a press release stating that the U.S. is “pleased” at its election to a second term on the notorious UN Human Rights Council. Like the winner of an academy award, she said she wanted to “thank the countries that voted for us in what was a highly competitive race” among “several qualified Western candidates.” Susan Rice held her own briefing the same day to say how “pleased and proud” the U.S. is, and to “thank all four of our highly qualified competitor countries for what was a very spirited campaign.”
All 192 members of the UN vote on each UNHRC candidate, but membership is limited by region. The U.S., Germany, and Ireland beat out Greece and Sweden for the three available Western spots. Fifteen states from other regions were also elected on Monday, including seven countries that (according to Freedom House) “clearly fail to meet the Council’s criteria for membership” (since they do not “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”): Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. All seven got substantially more votes than the U.S. did.
At yesterday’s State Department press conference, spokesperson Mark Toner was asked if the U.S. had a reaction to Venezuela’s election. He gave this response:
MR. TONER: Well, you buried the lead, because we’re very pleased to have been elected by the UN General Assembly to a second term on the Human Rights Council. And I believe Ambassador Rice spoke to this yesterday from New York. We certainly thank the countries that have voted for us in what was a very highly competitive race among several well-qualified Western European and Others Group [WEOG] candidates.
QUESTION: What was it, three out of five got elected?
MR. TONER: We received 131 votes, first-place in the WEOG group.
QUESTION: Ooh, first place.
In other words, the big story (in the view of the State Department) in an election packing the UNHRC with still more human-rights violators is: the election of the U.S. to another term. It shows that the world likes us. It really, really likes us (although not as much as Venezuela, Kazakhstan, et al.). On the other hand:
QUESTION: Don’t you think there is like a contradiction because Venezuela has been pointed out at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for not accomplish [sic] with human rights? So how do you put this in context, or –
MR. TONER: Well, in creating the Council, member states pledge to take into account the contribution of candidates, the promotion and protection of human rights. We think some countries elected to the Human Rights Council on clean slates have failed to show their commitment.
QUESTION: Aha. That’s what I want to get at. Because quite apart from Venezuela, you’ve got such paragons of human rights protection as Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan –
MR. TONER: I didn’t single out Venezuela.
QUESTION: – Pakistan, Gabon. Are you comfortable sitting on a body that’s supposed to make judgments about other countries’ human rights records when there are serial offenders on it?
MR. TONER: Again, Ambassador Rice in New York spoke to this very effectively yesterday. … We decided four years ago that we could best improve the Council by working within it rather than criticizing from outside.
The State Department also released Monday a fact sheet on U.S. “accomplishments” during “our first term,” including eight resolutions on Syria since 2011 (count ’em!); “suspending” Libya in 2011 from its seat on the Council (for massacring its own citizens); and a special rapporteur “speaking out” on human rights violations in Iran (which does not seem to have had any effect).
Missing from the list is any reduction in what the department diplomatically calls the UNHRC’s “excessive and unbalanced focus” on Israel. As Elliott Abrams more forthrightly notes, that focus is “ludicrous”: the “only country listed on the Council’s permanent agenda” is Israel — “Not North Korea, not Sudan, not Cuba — only Israel.” After four years, smart power has been unable to address that problem, but the U.S. is pleased and proud to have been re-elected.