Lipstick on a Caterpillar? Assessing the New U.N. Human Rights Council Through Historical Reflection
7 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2007
Several months ago, during the finalization of the plan to replace the U.N. Commission on Human Rights with the new U.N. Human Rights Council, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton said with characteristic flourish, We want a butterfly. We're not going to put lipstick on a caterpillar and declare it a success. Is the new U.N. Human Rights Council, which replaced the Human Rights Commission a butterfly or a caterpillar (with or without lipstick)? Bolton's critique of the Commission (if not his language) and his vision to go forward have been shared widely by many academics, policy specialists and western international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) that specialize in human rights advocacy. Indeed, now the new Council is being harshly criticized for its failure to act swiftly to condemn the atrocities in Darfur and for what the West sees as its relentless focus on Israel's human rights violations. The momentum created due to this rare convergence of views between the 'good, bad and the ugly' of human rights NGOs, Western States and the likes of John Bolton, ended up making U.N. reform happen rapidly in the human rights field, ahead of U.N. reform urgently needed in so many other domains, including at the Security Council or the Secretariat. While the initiation of any reform at the U.N. could be welcomed, it is useful to ask if the assumptions on which the reform was based are in fact sound. For if they are not, the reform of the Commission and the creation of the Council could well be a 'caterpillar with lipstick' and fail to achieve the purpose of the reform, which is to make the U.N. [*8] more effective and legitimate in the human rights field. The reform needed depends on the correct diagnosis of the problem with the U.N. Commission.
Keywords: UN reform, Human Rights, Bolton
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