The Unpopular American

U.S. should work to repair ties after losing seat on UN Human Rights Commission

During the past week, serious tension has developed in the already strained relationship between America and the United Nations. On May 4, America was voted off the UN Commission on Human Rights, leaving it without a seat for the first time since the commission’s founding by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1947. The move, coordinated by a French-led bloc, has left the commission with such human-rights luminaries as Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Sudan, the last of which is known for widespread slavery. And yesterday, the House voted to suspend American payments of belated UN dues. The Bush administration should move to end this comedy of errors before it has serious consequences for international human rights.

Although the commission’s attempts to improve human rights have largely been symbolic rather than substantive, the exclusion of the U.S. is a serious blow. The way to improve the commission’s inadequacies lies in regaining the trust of UN members, not in separating ourselves from them. If America does not want Sudan to set the world’s human rights policies, it has a moral obligation to work to regain its place on the commission. There will always be groups in the UN that are hostile towards America—nations like Sudan, Pakistan, China and Cuba have an interest in quelling U.S. criticism of their human-rights standing, and countries such as France have capitalized on others’ fear of American power. But the U.S. will not be able to achieve its aims without international support, and America must work to re-enter important multinational forums to minimize the impact of such antagonistic groups.


The solution to this crisis therefore will not be found through petty attempts at retribution, such as yesterday’s conservative-led House vote to suspend overdue UN payments. This type of unnecessary confrontation has been largely to blame for the present difficulties; other nations perceive the U.S. as an overbearing giant, not a committed partner. Rather than cut off our UN dues, Congress ought to pay them immediately and in full. This would be a signal of America’s intention to move on and strengthen its position within the UN. A refusal to pay our debts would be seen as a crude attempt at blackmail by a conservative Congress determined on a policy of international isolation.


America’s problems with the UN predated the Bush administration—Clinton was harshly criticized at first for his half-hearted involvement in Bosnia—but the tension has been heightened by the aggressive rhetoric that has been increasingly employed since January. Bush spoke frequently in the wake of his difficult transition to power of the need for reconciliation to move forward from disagreement and dissension. We now urge his administration to strive for the same goals on the international stage. Regaining influence in the UN could only help America’s national interest and the rights of afflicted humans throughout the world.

Dissent: Don't Compromise U.S. Interests

I share the staff’s concern about the U.S. losing its seat on the UN Human Rights Commission. But I disagree with criticism of the Bush administration’s so-called “aggressive rhetoric.” Contrary to the staff’s implication, the US must not return to a policy of groveling.

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