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On Humanity Score Card, Does Libya Trump United States?

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The Universal Periodic Review "has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world." - Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

Should nations open themselves up to scrutiny by the United Nations? The Universal Periodic Review, adopted in 2006, takes a very close look at how nations fare in a broad range of areas such as civil rights, immigration and respect for basic human rights.

The United States participated in this review, with the goal of establishing a model for other nations. Surprisingly, the United States fared far worse on this "humanity scorecard" compared to Libya.

The UPR is:

... is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. The UPR is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. As one of the main features of the Council, the UPR is designed to ensure equal treatment for every country when their human rights situations are assessed.

The following areas were studied:

  • Civil rights and discrimination
  • Criminal justice issues
  • Indigenous issues
  • National security
  • Immigration
  • Economic, social, and cultural rights and measures, and the environment
  • Labor and trafficking
  • Domestic implementation of human rights
  • Treaties and international human rights mechanisms

How did the US and Libya compare? Consider this summary of recommendations, or areas in need of improvement, from the UN working group. There are three categories: "enjoy its support" (the nation generally agrees with the UN's recommendations,) "consider" and "did not enjoy its support" (there is a disagreement.)

United States: 96 (Enjoy Its Support), 74 (Considers), 58 (Did Not Enjoy Its Support).
Total of 228 Recommendations.

Libya: 66 (Enjoy Its Support), 30 (Considers), 24 (Did Not Enjoy Its Support).
Total of 120 Recommendations.

In the initial UPR (January 4, 2011), Libya was commended in a number of human rights areas:

Here's one example of such praise:

Palestine commended the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for the consultations held with
civil society in the preparation of the national report, which demonstrated its commitment to the improved enjoyment of human rights. Palestine praised the country for the Great Green Document on Human Rights. It noted the establishment of the national independent institution entrusted with promoting and protecting human rights, which had many of the competencies set out in the Paris Principles. It also noted the interaction of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya with human rights mechanisms.

This video shows more examples of praise of Libya by the UN working group:

On February 23, 2011, President Obama addressed the nation about human rights violations in Libya:

I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back, and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed at one's own people; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.

A couple weeks later, the United Nations group changed its position. From Reuters (March 3):

The report, reflecting a three-hour debate in the council last November, included praise for Libya from a range of countries who last Friday agreed that Gaddafi was a gross rights violator and backed his country's removal from the body.

Rights activist groups said the decision by the steering bureau of the council to postpone adoption of the report would avoid embarrassment for Islamic, African and countries like Cuba who had earlier lauded Gaddafi as a democrat.

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch said the main effect of the report, compiled after a review of Libya's record last November, "was to bolster Gaddafi's oppressive regime, demoralize his victims and harm the reputation of the U.N."

This example demonstrates that politicization of the UPR overseen by the United Nations, not surprisingly, exists. Regardless, I am optimistic that such careful scrutiny of nations can be a healthy process albeit flawed. Ultimately, the success of the UPR will be measured by how nations respond to the UN's recommendations, inviting their citizens to be an integral part of the discussions. Without such critical feedback and policy change, such review becomes more political posturing.

A version of this article was published at Dean's Corner at ScienceBlogs.