U.S. will undergo human rights scrutiny

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: "Experience is local." (Haraz N. Ghanbari - AP)
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Thursday, March 18, 2010

U.S. will undergo human rights scrutiny

Rolling out the State Department's latest human rights report, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that, for the first time, the United States will submit itself to a process in which its record might be judged by some of the world's worst human rights abusers.

"Human rights are universal, but their experience is local. This is why we are committed to holding everyone to the same standard, including ourselves," Clinton said, referring to U.S. participation this fall in what's called the "universal periodic review" process, run by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Critics say the 47-member council, which was established in March 2006 to replace the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, has been hijacked since its inception by human rights violators such as Cuba, China and Egypt. George W. Bush's administration refused to join, citing the council's nondemocratic makeup and its frequent criticisms of Israel, but the Obama administration reversed that decision last spring.

All 192 U.N. member countries are supposed to go through the UPR process every four years, but some critics warn that the Obama team is simply giving human rights abusers the perfect chance to justify their own atrocities.

Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, defended U.S. participation in the review and the council in an interview with the Cable.

"My goal is to be able to complete the [UPR] report and after that come out even more aggressive on countries like Cuba, North Korea, Burma and Russia," Posner said. "We'll be in a stronger position if we do a good report, and we will."

Kristen Silverberg, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs from 2005 to 2008, warned that the U.S. record on human rights could quickly become politicized, especially because the U.N. panel's mission would be to find something to criticize.

"Countries like Burma and Iran will then use that criticism to justify their own atrocious human rights records," she said.

Congress may act first on Iran

Pressure is mounting for Congress to move forward on ironing out differences between the House and Senate versions of the Iran sanctions legislation, multiple congressional aides tell the Cable.

The original idea was to finalize the U.S. bill only after the U.N. Security Council has its say, but continued delays in obtaining a workable resolution have put that plan in jeopardy. While lawmakers want to give the administration space to line up the necessary support at the Security Council, their patience is wearing thin.

"If the U.N. track stalls to the point that we're in the middle of the year, it is unlikely that the Congress is going to wait that long," said one senior congressional aide close to the issue.

The Senate appointed conferees earlier this month, and the House is expected to follow suit shortly

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