Commentary: U.N. Rights Council needs improvement

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

The Obama administration's decision to join the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council is a welcome sign that the United States will try to use this forum to make a difference in protecting human rights around the world. No one should harbor any illusions, however, about the Council itself or the difficulty of improving its work.

As former Czech President Vaclav Havel wrote recently, the Council's membership includes some of the worst human-rights abusers on the planet. For that you can blame either the indifference of other countries, which determine membership by selection in regional blocs, or, more likely, political expediency. Cuba – to cite one outrageous example – was allowed to regain its seat with the assent of neighboring countries. Either democracies in Latin America didn't care enough to put up a fight or simply weren't willing to offend the Castro government, which amounts to the same thing.

Cuba's inclusion makes a mockery of the Council's supposed commitment to "uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights." And it only makes matters worse when the U.N.'s top official at the HRC, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, tries to justify this inexcusable state of affairs by making the thoroughly absurd comment that nobody's perfect.

"Is there any country that has a blemish-free record?" she asked.

Of course not. But there is a vast difference between countries where citizens have a right to defend themselves against occasional violations of human dignity and countries where repression and persecution are essential means of governing. If Ms. Pillay can't tell the difference, she needs to enroll in a refresher course on human rights.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.