U.N. Human Rights Council Condemns Syrian Violence

Michele Norris interviews Ambassador Eileen Donahoe, the United States representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council, about the council's meeting regarding Syria. She says the action by the international community sends a strong message to the Syrian government that it cannot mistreat its people — and sends messages to the protesters that they are not alone.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And we begin this hour with Syria and international response to ongoing bloodshed there.

BLOCK: As Syrian troops clashed with protesters again today in multiple cities, President Obama signed an executive order, imposing sanctions on Syrian officials. And earlier in the day, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Syria's use of violence and launched an investigation.

NORRIS: Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe is the U.S. representative to the Human Rights Council. She was in Geneva for the vote. I asked her what it will accomplish.

Ambassador EILEEN CHAMBERLAIN DONAHOE (U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council): The international community strongly condemns the outrageous response of the Syrian government to the peaceful demands of their own citizens. I think there's been a lot of criticism of what the international community is willing to do, in this case of Syria; and today's message was a strong one.

The high commissioner for human rights will go in and investigate and come back and report to the Human Rights Council in June. In addition, I have to add that the action today lays bare, really, the sheer hypocrisy of the Syrian authorities in that they have put forward their own candidacy for membership in the Human Rights Council.

And the fact that we held a special session today to outline the human rights atrocities committed by the Syrian authorities makes it blatantly obvious that the Syrians just do not deserve membership on the Human Rights Council.

NORRIS: There are 47 member nations of the U.N. Human Rights Council. As I understand, the U.S. played a leading role in pushing forward this resolution. Is there something that the U.S. wanted to see that is not included in this resolution? Could it have gone further?

Amb. DONAHOE: Oh, the U.S. is always pushing for as much as we can get in terms of holding governments accountable, especially when it comes to freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. On the other hand, we also had to balance our desire for the strongest outcome that we would have liked with the desire to have a larger group of countries jointly condemn the behavior of the Syrian government.

And we're really proud of the fact that we kept the results strong, but we grew the vote margin and the majority.

NORRIS: I want to give you a chance to respond to some of your critics. I want to read something from U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. And she says: The council will try to fool the world into believing that it defends human rights. However, the facts that the council only acts after extensive atrocities have already been committed and is dominated by human rights abusers like China, Cuba and Russia, demonstrate what a sham the organization is.

I want to give you a chance to respond, and tell us why she's wrong.

Amb. DONAHOE: Oh, I would say she's wrong on a number of fronts. Like it or not, we have to generate members for the council from within the existing world community. The job of free countries is to move those partly free countries in our direction. We have dramatically changed the results of this council and encouraged countries to come to what we believe is the principled, shared perspective of most countries in the world on human rights. And this case of Syria is just one example.

NORRIS: I want to ask you about the timing here. You noted that a report is forthcoming in June. Is that soon enough?

Amb. DONAHOE: Well, we would like anything that will have an impact with respect to human rights to happen immediately. A report is part of what can happen. I think the condemnation today, hopefully, will have the effect of giving the Syrian government pause.

NORRIS: Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe is the U.S. representative to the Human Rights Council.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Amb. DONAHOE: Thank you.

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