Panacea or False Hope? From Commission on Human Rights to the Human Rights Council

Voss, Michael, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Smith, Michael, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

In April 2005, Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, declares that, “... we have reached a point at which the Commission [on Human Rights]’s declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole, and where piecemeal reforms will not be enough.” One year later, the UN General Assembly replaces the Commission with the Human Rights Council. The Council is mandated to be the premier human rights standard setting and protection institution of the United Nations. It is the hope of all stakeholders, that key issues that plagued the Commission will not plague the Council; instead, the transition from the Commission to the Council would breathe new life into the UN’s human rights system and would not be a new false hope.

This dissertation examines how the transition from the Commission to the Council has affected perceived significant issues such as selectivity, membership, resolution proliferation, and regional bloc voting by examining how Member States vote on country and thematic resolutions. The project examines voting patterns using multiple methodological approaches, including the creation of novel datasets on both country and thematic resolution votes. The datasets cover over 450 votes. The project uses a case study analysis of all sessions of the Council, from its inaugural session in 2006 through 2012. Finally, this dissertation uses process tracing in order to better understand why voting decisions were made and why the Council’s behavior changes in 2009.

This dissertation finds that structural changes, regional bloc voting, or the level of democratic membership do not significantly influence outcomes. Instead, the best explanatory variable is who sits on the Council. Specifically, the presence of the US on has the most impact on outcomes. The Council embodies neither a new era of effectiveness nor the dawn of false hope. Rather, like the UN itself, the Council is what its Member States make of it.

This project may be useful for scholars and practitioners of international relations, international law, and the United Nations because it is a first academic cut at understanding the full spectrum of Council voting outcomes.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
human rights, international relations, united nations, diplomacy, foreign policy, international law
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