Frictions seen easing in troubled U.N. human rights body

March 24, 2011
(Delegates observe a one-minute silence during the high level segment of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)

(Delegates at the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011/Valentin Flauraud)

The United States and NGO campaign groups say diplomatic shifts on highly-charged issues like religion and Iran in the long-polarised U.N. Human Rights Council could turn it into a more effective body.

U.S. ambassador Eileen Donahoe said emerging accords on tackling religious hatred, Iran’s rights record and unusual cooperation across mutually suspicious regional blocs on Libya could mark a turning point for the forum.

“While the council remains an imperfect body, we have seen distinct progress in terms of its ability to respond to happenings in the world with respect to human rights in real time,” the U.S. ambassador to the council told reporters on Wednesday. “There is more shared common ground here than people realise.”

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to promote universal human rights used terms like “seismic shift” and “groundbreaking” to describe an apparent softening in demands from the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic States (OIC) that religions be protected internationally from “defamation.”

NGOs had previously welcomed the council’s surprising consensus decision last month to expel Libya — whose rights record most members had praised effusively only three months earlier — for killing anti-government protesters.

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