US Calls Human Rights Debate in UN Security Council

The United States called a special U.N. Security Council session Tuesday on the importance of protecting human rights and that issue’s role in preventing conflict and fostering international security, but dropped an expected move to make human rights reviews a formal part of all council meetings.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley singled out North Korea and Syria as countries where human rights violations are frequent and systematic, and she warned the next international crisis could well arise in a nation where rights are disregarded, such as Cuba or Iran.

“It is no surprise that the world’s most brutal regimes are also the most ruthless violators of human rights,” Haley said. She also criticized the governments in Burundi and Myanmar, but she did not refer to rights violations in U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, or to non-state groups such as the Islamic State, which has been accused of many atrocities and abuses.

“To be honest, there is hardly an issue on our agenda today that does not involve concerns about human rights, and future threats will continue to challenge us,” Haley said of the Security Council’s work. “But if this council fails to take human rights violations and abuses seriously, they can escalate into real threats to international peace and security.”

U.S. decides not to press vote

Diplomats had expected the U.S. to try to win the council’s approval to add human rights considerations to all its meetings, but that was dropped after at least six member states — Russia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Bolivia — made clear they opposed such a move.

Opposition also was expected from Senegal, and the United States eventually decided not to risk defeat on a procedural vote to press the issue, diplomats said.

The deputy U.N. director for the group Human Rights Watch, Akshaya Kumar, said, “Unless the U.S. is prepared to seriously address human rights abuses committed by its allies — like Saudi Arabia and Iraq — a theoretical debate about human rights issues at the Security Council won’t improve the council’s work.”

“If the Trump administration wants to burnish its reputation on rights,” she added, “it should address problems at home, such as its discriminatory travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries.”

Theme is human rights

The United States called Tuesday’s meeting in its role as president of the Security Council this month. It was the first time the council has devoted a meeting to the general theme of human rights, although it has discussed specific human rights situations — such as in North Korea — on several occasions. But the topic was controversial among some members, who saw the change as overstepping the Security Council’s mandate and infringing on the work of other U.N. bodies such as the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.

“The Security Council has only those powers which member states wish to endow it with,” said Russia’s deputy U.N. envoy, Evgeny Zagaynov. “Where it attempts to go beyond these powers, it inevitably impedes upon the competencies of states or other bodies within the U.N. system.”

Egypt envoy voices a concern

Egypt’s U.N. envoy, Amr Aboulatta, raised a concern that human rights could disguise an attempt “to interfere in the internal affairs of states and add to the council agenda items that don’t constitute a threat to international peace and security.”

“It is not that we don’t want to discuss the topic of human rights,” Bolivia’s Ambassador Sacha Llorenti said. “It’s that we want to discuss it in a form on which the membership agrees on and that is much more democratic and transparent than the Security Council.”

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