Last week, we reported on the extraordinary UN vote on the Commission of Inquiry report. Despite a North Korean charm offensive and a Cuban amendment that would have stricken referral to the UN Security Council, the resolution passed with a very large majority, 111-19, with 55 abstentions. That margin marked only a small erosion of support from the last time such a resolution was put to a formal vote in 2011, despite the fact that this one—at least potentially—has teeth.
In this post, we highlight a few details and sources for thinking about the meaning of this vote and the way forward.
First up, a small correction; Roberta Cohen at Brookings noted an interesting procedural detail that we missed. We cited the full text of the Cuban amendment as tabled, which included reference to particular elements of a cooperative approach. These included the EU dialogue, technical assistance and a visit by the Special Rapporteur. In the end, Cuba called only for a vote on a more cooperative approach, leaving its content open. It should be noted, however, that such a cooperative process was included in the CoI report. We hope that as the dust settles, the Europeans and the UN will pick up these threads. The trick moving forward will be in part to balance the approach emphasizing accountability with a practical means for mitigating the most egregious abuses.
With respect to the debate itself, the UN coverage provides a good introduction to the substantive back and forth. The countries that opposed the Japan-EU resolution outright are virtually all authoritarian regimes with serious human rights issues of their own; a full list of those countries and those who voted yes on the Cuban resolution are listed below.
But the issue for some fence-sitters—those voting yes on the Cuban resolution and either yes or abstained on the Japan-EU resolution—has to do with country-specific resolutions; there is principled as well as self-interested opposition to the idea. The Jacob Blaustein Institute, which did outstanding work lobbying on the resolution, has a truly excellent piece on the issue, replete with some interesting data. The sad origin of country-specific resolutions begins with the targeting of Israel; the US vetoed these resolutions when they got as far as the Security Council. The US also stayed away from the Human Rights Council, which was an institutional embarrassment for the UN because of the participation of countries who were themselves egregious rights violators.
When the US and other advanced and developing democracies decided to participate in earnest, the debate over country-specific efforts was joined. Countries such as Algeria, Cuba, China and India argued against country-specific mandates, while simultaneously supporting anti-Israel resolutions. But the active participation of the US changed the game; now, we have a number of country-specific mandates doing serious work on the human rights situation in problematic countries. It remains an important question whether these mandates have practical effect. But at least the institution is taking core conventions—including the Charter itself—seriously.
A few more small odds and ends:
- The Washington Post has particularly good coverage of the report and the vote if you are looking for a pithy summary;
- Carl Gershman has a moving editorial on Vaclav Havel and how the current Czech government has strayed from his legacy. Havel had an interest in the North Korean issue, writing prefaces for publications by the Committee on Human Rights in North Korea, including my first collaboration with Marcus Noland on food and human rights in North Korea (2005) and the important legal paper on failure to protect (both can be found here).
- My colleague Marc Noland did a CNN soundbite on the UN vote.
On the votes:
The fence-sitters: those voting yes on the Cuban amendment and either voted yes or abstained on the Japan-EU resolution: Algeria, Bahamas, Burundi, El Salvador, Eritrea, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Pakistan, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Saint Vincent, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Sudan, Suriname, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uganda.
The nay-sayers; those voting yes on the Cuban amendment and no on the Japan-EU resolution: Belarus, Bolivia, China, Cuba, DPRK, Ecuador, Iran, Laos, Myanmar, Oman, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria , Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zimbabwe.
Finally, North Korea once again could not help being—well, North Korea; there were even statements suggesting that a positive vote on the Japan-EU resolution would be met with a nuclear test. But the WSJ’s Korea Real Time tracks how Pyongyang has walked back from those threats, in part perhaps because of ongoing diplomacy with Russia.
Witness to Transformation Posts on the CoI
Commission of Inquiry Report: the Mandate (March 25, 2013)
Commission of Inquiry Report: Initial Reaction (February 17, 2014; includes full links to Commission materials)
Commission of Inquiry Report: What Next? (February 24, 2014).
Roberta Cohen, Karin Lee and Christine Hong on Human Rights (January 29, 2014)
Commission of Inquiry Roundup I: The UN Role (March 3, 2014)
Commission of Inquiry Roundup II: the UN Role (March 6, 2014)
The Human Rights Council Vote (March 31, 2014)
The Commission of Inquiry: The Arria Meeting (April 21, 2014)
North Korea Admits to Prison Camps--Or Does It? (October 8, 2014)
On the UN politics, October-November 2014: Human Rights Racket: Alive and Kicking (October 10, 2014, on the October 6 letter from the DPRK Permanent Representative); Human Rights Roundup and The North Korean Counter-Resolution (October 20 and 21, 2014); UN Diplomacy Continued, Parts One and Two (October 28 and 29); The End of Charm, Part One and Part Two (November 6 and 7). The UN Vote (November 19).