Posted by: Roncevert | April 2, 2010

Principled Engagement and the Universal Periodic Review

U.S. State Department representatives such as Harold Koh and Sarah Cleveland have spoken of an emerging “Obama-Clinton Doctrine,” which consists of four tenets:

  1. Principled Engagement;
  2. Diplomacy as a Critical Element of Smart Power;
  3. Strategic Multilateralism; and
  4. Living Our Values Makes Us Stronger and Safer, including following Universal Standards, not Double Standards.

With regard to the concept of principled engagement, this refers to the interdependence of the globalized community and U.S. interests in actively shaping the conduits of commerce and power, such as international institutions.

UN Human Rights Council

In particular, Mr. Koh cited U.S. engagement with the new U.N. Human Rights Council, which replaced the derelict Human Rights Commission. As a member of the ABA UN & International Institutions Coordinating Committee, I had received an update from the State Department on its plans to participate in the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.  UPR serves as a 4-year report on state compliance  with HR obligations. The UPR process includes a webcast plenary session where the subject country orally defends its progress and follow-up corrective action plans.

I was pleased that Mr. Koh publicly reiterated U.S. involvement, including a listening tour across  America to solicit information.  The tour returns to DC on April 29, 2010. You do not have to attend one of these “barn raisers” – as we call ’em back in West Virginia – to participate. Merely email information to the State Department at  The U.S. UPR report will be presented in November 2010.  If you would like to participate then I suggest reviewing the State Department’s technical guide.

No doubt there will be criticism as to the efficacy and validity of this exercise, but process can equal substance, especially when developing practices conducive to compliance with international legal commitments.  Auditing, transparent review and corrective action plans are familiar elements to regulatory attorneys.  Additionally, for lawyers concerned with customary international law, participation in the UPR  demonstrates state practice and opinio juris.

By pausing at the UPR stop sign on the open and contentious country road of human rights, we are acknowledging our treaty commitments and fidelity to universal norms.  Some folks plainly dislike the United Nations. Well back home you don’t always go to church to hear the preacher. You attend because you are a member of a community and care deeply about its vitality.


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