Julian Braithwaite

Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva

Part of UK in Switzerland

8th March 2017 Geneva, Switzerland

Shining A Spotlight On The World’s Human Rights Problems

The March session of the Human Rights Council is the most significant event in the UN human rights calendar. Well over a hundred ministers were in Geneva for the first week, last week.

So now is a good time to take stock of the significance of this body and why it matters. To some it is just a diplomatic dance of speeches and resolutions with little meaning for those suffering oppression, discrimination, injustice and abuse around the world. To others it is a forum in which powerful countries name and shame less powerful countries in the pursuit of narrow political objectives that have nothing to do with human rights.

It is true that the Council cannot stop oppression or bring an end to injustice. It cannot prevent abuse, or discrimination. Only those responsible for these violations of human rights – the states themselves – can do that; or in certain situations, the United Nations acting under Chapter VII through the Security Council. It is also true that the Human Rights Council is a political body. How could it be otherwise? It is a forum in which countries debate the human rights situation in other countries. Its resolutions are but the collective view of those countries who voted for them. Countries prepared to lead resolutions and build coalitions inevitably play a more prominent role.

Like the United Nations itself, the Human Rights Council is only as good as its members. It does not have the power to intervene or impose solutions. What it does have is the legitimacy of the UN and its constituent members. This gives its proclamations undeniable moral and political force.

The Human Rights Council rightly prefers to act by consensus. Thematic and country resolutions agreed by the whole Council have more legitimacy. Country resolutions passed with the agreement of the state concerned are also more likely to be implemented.

The United Kingdom supports the Council acting without consensus when it has to. It is hardly appropriate to compromise with countries responsible for the worst violations of human rights in order to reach a consensus in the Council to a resolution condemning those violations. To its discredit, several such countries have been elected to the Council in recent years. And consensus is not always possible when it comes to advancing the cause of human rights, and strengthening protection for marginalised groups.

But the United Kingdom also supports doing more to give credit to the vast majority of UN member states that are trying to improve the lot of their citizens. A country’s level of social and economic development does impact on its ability to implement human rights. But not in the way that some claim. You don’t have to be a rich country not to lock up your political opponents. But when a country is struggling with basic issues of education and health care, it is unrealistic to expect them to have much time for the issues that dominate human rights debate in developed countries. That is why we are supporting the “Race to the Top”, a cross-regional statement that highlights the advances in human rights by countries that may otherwise not get much credit in the Council.

Imperfect though it is, the Human Rights Council shines a powerful spotlight on the world’s most pressing human rights problems. For as long as there are members of the UN who violate human rights, the Council’s work will inevitably be controversial. And for the same reason, necessary.

1 comment on “Shining A Spotlight On The World’s Human Rights Problems

  1. Gratitude to yuo, ambasy for humans been .
    Resulting of great progress on fowar oppression to a humans been .

    The respect among the individuals as between country’s is the Peace

    My great grant father . Mexico
    Ex president Benito Juarez. Oax mex. *
    Im sam ijuarez . Thankz sr.

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About Julian Braithwaite

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015. Julian was born in Rome, and has…

Julian Braithwaite was appointed Her Majesty’s
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva in April 2015.

Julian was born in Rome, and has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard universities, where he studied biochemistry, history and international relations.

He is married to Biljana Braithwaite and they have
two daughters, Anya (born 2000) and Katya (born 2004). He spent much of his career dealing with the crises in the former Yugoslavia and goes to Montenegro every summer.

Julian posts on the United Nations and the issues around globalisation, including human rights, the internet, global health, humanitarian crises and arms control.