One of my frustrations with the global justice community has been a general aversion to thinking through and articulating clear road maps to secure human rights advancements in a way that can stand up to cost/benefit assessments of other contending policy goals.
There are some exceptions in the field — Tom Malinowski at Human Rights Watch, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke during his career, and some others — have a refreshingly Machiavellian approach (which I mean as a compliment) in securing major human rights deliverables. They both tend to be flexible in the means by which they achieve these ends — and they are quite aware of political and other constraints on American power at the moment.
Ted Piccone, Deputy Director for Foreign Policy at Brookings, has impressed this morning with a piece he has just published at Global Post on other parts of the human rights puzzle that make a great deal of sense to me.
While focusing on American engagement in the UN Human Rights Council that former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton worked hard to kill off as the reformed institution was being relaunched and rebranded a few years ago, Piccone outlines some of the ways that human rights gains “should” be advanced by nations.
. . .human rights defenders from around the world are focused, organized and engaged in cross-border advocacy to shine a spotlight on the worst abusers and to urge governments to defeat them.
Their message gets results because the instrument of competitive elections gives governments a viable choice in the voting booth. It is therefore critical that competition continues if, over time, we are to see an improved cast of characters in Geneva. In this regard, the United States must set the right example by insisting on competitive slates for its regional group, unlike last year when it pushed New Zealand aside to run unopposed.
Now that the U.S. is on the council, it seems to be making a positive difference. It campaigned quietly but determinedly to block Iran’s candidacy. It is building cross-regional coalitions to address contentious issues like freedom of expression and hate crimes and terrible violence in countries like Guinea and Sudan. And it appears to be taking seriously its first-ever submission later this year to the Universal Period Review process, a new mechanism that now requires every state’s human rights record to be evaluated in proceedings web simultaneously broadcast throughout the world.
The Obama administration is off to a good start, then, in its re-engagement policy at the U.N. Human Rights Council, but it must do much more, starting with our own actions at home. Seen from the eyes of human rights defenders on the ground, the most important thing Washington can do is to lead by example.
Piccone outlines the right way to help secure sustainable human rights change — as opposed to thinking that the US military should be responsible for delivering in this arena.
— Steve Clemons