No country has a greater stake in a strong United Nations than the United States. The United States benefits from a global institution intended to advance the rule of law, the peaceful resolution of disputes, effective collective security, humanitarian relief, development and respect for human rights.
The country-specific procedures included the public Resolution 1235 procedure and the confidential Resolution 1503 procedures which were developed in the 1960s after the two main treaties implementing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were drafted and sent to the General Assembly for approval: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Theme procedures were later developed in order to address individual complaints more effectively as well as further the jurisprudence on specific topics.
The country-specific procedures always were much more political and it is important to assess their effectiveness in that context. The bottom line has been, despite their political nature that countries of all kinds and levels of development will fight to prevent resolutions from being passed against them. An indication that they do in fact care about what the U.N. bodies might say about them.
A couple of examples help to highlight the fact that the U.N. procedures have indeed been helpful in preventing and promoting international human rights standards:
► Another less direct example was the role played by the CHR in stopping the death penalty for offenders under 18 in a number of countries. The attention paid to that issue by its expert body, the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and the CHR itself, put pressure on a number of countries to change its laws or stop the practice, including Pakistan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Even the United States, which was the country with the largest number of violations of the prohibition against this sentence, eventually stopped the practice after a number of resolutions and statements by countries increasingly referred to the practice. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court made reference to the various resolutions by the CHR on the topic in interpreting the United States resolution to prohibit the practice.
The Council has been able to pass more concise resolutions focused on human rights principles with greater consensus as exemplified by the resolutions on the rights of the child and the transfer of toxics. It was able to address the specific topic in a special session – that dealing with the emergency situation related to the right to food.
It is time for the United States to return to its leadership role in the protection of human rights.
(Portions of this blog post are taken from Connie de la Vega, "Just Back From the Human Rights Council," 11 April 2008 Panel Discussion at the annual meeting of the American Society of International Law, published in 102 ASIL Proceedings (2008))