Saturday, August 28, 2010

United States Gives Itself High Marks on Human Rights, but What Comes Next?/

by Ted Piccone and Emily Alinikoff

Brookings Institution
August 27, 2010

This month, the United States submitted an assessment of its human rights record to the UN Human Rights Council as part of the UN’s newest human rights mechanism, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Unsurprisingly, its report immediately caught flak from the right and the left. Nationalists and conservatives at the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation complained we should not bother to subject ourselves to scrutiny by states with lesser human rights records and that by doing so we give ammunition to autocrats who can mock our shortcomings. Progressives applauded the administration for participating seriously in a multilateral process but lamented the failure to address a host of human rights deficits.

In our view, the administration’s report perhaps tries too hard to please everyone and in doing so falls short of what it could have achieved if it had taken a more critical and honest approach to some of the more troublesome elements on the human rights agenda. It deserves praise for engaging in serious consultations around the country with critics and victims alike to prepare its findings. Its political instincts, though, were apparently to mute self-criticism in order to forestall attacks from the U.S.-can-do-no-wrong crowd while simultaneously highlighting progress since 2009 as a way to remind voters at home and constituencies abroad that it is different from the Bush administration.

The real test, however, is how this administration will address such ongoing and thorny issues around detention policy, impunity for torture, immigration and protection of civilians caught in conflict. On these matters, the report offers very little.