Cuba on U.N. Human Rights Commission

The farce that is the United Nations Human Rights Commission continued, with the election of Cuba and five other major human rights violators to its membership.

Six nations with poor human rights records were among those elected to the new Human Rights Council on Tuesday, although notorious violators that had belonged to the predecessor Human Rights Commission did not succeed in winning places in the new group. China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, countries cited by human rights groups as not deserving membership, were among the 47 nations elected to the council. But in a move hailed by the same groups, both Iran and Venezuela failed to attract the needed votes.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: “The good news is that we did better than expected in the voting because Iran and Venezuela both lost. Venezuela’s losing shows that bluster and anti-Americanism isn’t enough to get elected.”

Nations running for the council had to meet more demanding standards than in the past. The previous commission was long a public embarrassment to the United Nations because countries like Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe became members and thereby thwarted the investigation of their own human rights records.

A.M. Mora y Leon, Bruce “McQ” McQuain, Michelle Malkin, and others are suitably outraged by this travesty.

I would be more amazed if not for the fact that it inevitably flows from the fundamental flaw at the core of international law and thus the United Nations: The sovereign equality of states. By pretending that there is no difference between the United States and Uzbekistan, France and Fiji, Canada and Cameroon, or Britain and Bhutan, there is no hope of keeping rogues off these important committees.

Yes, the Security Council, with its five Permanent Members and a veto power, is an exception. It’s a concession to the failures of the League of Nations. But the scope of the Council is limited and, frankly, it is largely impotent as gaining concensus among the big five on military action is virtually impossible.

If Cuba is a sovereign state–and it is–and equal under international law, how then would we exclude it, a priori, from a watchdog group that theoretically determines which states are violating the basic tenants of the Charter?

Update: I should note that I don’t advocate the abolition of the sovereign equality principle as the solution to the problem. That’s a non-starter. States are sovereign and thus, by definition, in control of their own destinies. I merely note that it creates problems when attempting to establish things like rights commissions.

I am in favor of a democracies only body as an adjunct to the U.N., whether simply NATO plus or something new. As the kerfuffle between the U.S. and France (especially) during the run-up to the Iraq War demonstrated, there’s no guarantee of consensus. There is, however, a basic set of starting principles all agree upon.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    Saudi Arabia, one of the countries elected to this new panel, is not a signatory to the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man. Instead, it and some 40 other countries, have signed the Universal Islamic Declaration of the Rights of Man (also known as the Cairo Accord).

    The two documents differ in significant ways.

    The point is that the Universal Declaration represents the view of the majority opinion of these rights. A not-insignficant minority, however, has a different view.

    I suppose the UN could try to say that one declaration has priority, but that would probably result in the UN losing a quarter of its members. Not at all sure that’d be an improvment.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    In related news inmates are to be placed in charge of all asylums.

  3. legion says:

    By pretending that there is no difference between the United States and Uzbekistan, France and Fiji, Canada and Cameroon, or Britain and Bhutan, there is no hope of keeping rogues off these important committees.

    I see an interesting parallel here with the debates about the makeup & need for two houses of Congress – why should VT or IA have the same representation as CA or TX?

    But on a more useful track, as John notes, there are ways other than simple sovereignty to compare nations to nations and apples to apples… perhaps all sovereign status should get you is a ticket in the door at the UN…

  4. John Burgess says:
  5. James Joyner says:

    Legion: They probably shouldn’t but, because they entered the union as sovereign states, that was the only way to get them on board. Of course, we had the Great Compromise to also bring population into the equation.

    Still, Montana and California, while not equals economically or populationwise, are at least moral equals in the sense of being law abiding, democratic places.