Administration Hails Positive Moves by U.N. Human Rights Council, But No Comment on ‘Right to Peace’ Vote

By Patrick Goodenough | July 6, 2012 | 5:01am EDT

U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council Eileen Donahoe, far left, joins other members’ delegates at a media briefing in Geneva on Thursday, July 5, 2012, after the council adopted a resolution upholding the principle of freedom of expression and information on the Internet. (Photo: U.S. Mission, Geneva)

( – Calling it a “momentous” achievement, the Obama administration touted a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution Thursday backing the right to online freedom of expression.

But on the same day, the U.S. was steamrolled by authoritarian regimes, which pushed through a controversial “right to peace” resolution, which endorses resistance against “foreign occupation.”

Thursday, the penultimate day of the council’s current session in Geneva, brought both positive and negative results for the administration, which is eager to justify its decision to join the U.N.’s top human rights body – a reversal of its predecessor’s policy.

The positive included a resolution on the right to freedom of expression on the Internet and another aimed at protecting women’s and children’s right to a nationality. Both were co-sponsored by the U.S. along with member states from other regions, and both were approved by consensus.

Those achievements were hailed variously in separate statements by U.S. Ambassador to the HRC Eileen Donahoe, the State Department’s Office of the Spokesperson and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and were also featured on the State Department’s blog.

In contrast, the administration had little to say publicly on the passage of the “right to peace” resolution, which the 47-member council passed by a vote of 34-1, with the U.S. alone voting “no.” India and 11 European countries abstained.

A group of authoritarian countries inside and outside the council, led by Cuba and including China, Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Syria and Venezuela, introduced the measure, which calls for a “U.N. Declaration on the Right to Peace,” based on a draft compiled by an HRC advisory committee.

The advisory committee’s draft covers a wide range of issues, and includes such anodyne assertions as, “Everyone has the right to human security, which includes freedom from fear and from want” and “Everyone has the right to have access to and receive information from diverse sources without censorship.”

But there are also numerous more contentious elements, many of which would arguably impact on individual nations’ sovereignty, while some appear designed specifically with Israel in mind. They include:

--“All peoples and individuals have the right to resist and oppose oppressive colonial, foreign occupation or dictatorial domination.”

--“Everyone subjected to aggression, genocide, foreign occupation, racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other related forms of intolerance or apartheid, colonialism and neo-colonialism deserve special attention as victims of violations of the right to peace.”

--“States shall abide by the legal obligation to renounce the use or threat of use of force in international relations.”

--“States shall engage actively in the strict and transparent control of arms trade.” (see related story on U.N. arms trade treaty negotiations)

--“States have the responsibility of mitigating climate change based on the best available scientific evidence and their historical contribution to climate change …”

--“States should place migrants at the center of migration policies and management …”

The advisory committee’s draft text concludes with the provision saying that “All States must implement in good faith the provisions of the present Declaration by adopting relevant legislative, judicial, administrative, educational or other measures necessary to promote its effective realization.”

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, the U.S. delegate said the resolution would “sow division and embroil the council in contentious negotiations,” adding that “past efforts to move forward with a ‘right to peace’ have always ended in endorsements for new concepts on controversial thematic issues, often unrelated to human rights.”

“No country wants to be cast as ‘voting against peace,’” the envoy said. “A vote against this resolution is not a vote against peace, but rather a vote against continuing an exercise fraught with divisions that makes no meaningful contribution to the protection of human rights on the ground.”

Pointing to the regimes promoting the resolution, Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based organization U.N. Watch called it a “sick joke.”

“The U.N. was founded on moral clarity, yet today the Syrian regime, which denies its people the right to life, was allowed to join with Iran, North Korea and other tyrannies to cynically present themselves as champions of peace,” he said.

The HRC’s advisory committee, the body responsible for the draft U.N. Declaration on the Right to Peace, comprises 18 “independent experts” and acts as the council’s think tank.

The six committee members who were tasked to draw up the draft declaration include Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Nicaraguan leftist whose term as U.N. General Assembly president in 2008-9 was characterized by his harsh criticism of Israel and other Western countries, and his defense for controversial regimes from Iran to Sudan.

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