As part of its long-standing study of the UN human rights institutions, the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement for Human Rights (JBI) convened a meeting in December 2011 with Suzanne Nossel, who had just stepped down after two years as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations. Nossel discussed the impact of U.S. membership in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and prospects for reform.
Nossel served at the State Department for two years, responsible for multilateral human rights and other issues, and played a leading role on U.S. policy at the UN Human Rights Council. She left the government in November 2011, and, when she spoke at JBI, was a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, prior to taking up a new position as Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.
In her remarks, Nossel frankly assesses the challenges she faced coming to the State Department as the U.S. re-joined the Human Rights Council (HRC), a body restructured from the UN Commission for Human Rights, criticized for its bias and cynical politicization by the world's worst human rights offenders.
During her two years in office, she and others were able to return a scrutiny to massive human rights violators such as Iran, Libya and Syria through new mandates to investigate situations. To some extent, they were also able to reduce somewhat the obsessive focus on Israel as compared to other countries, although the structural bias against Israel within the UN system continues.
In a lively question and answer session, Nossel addressed the imbalances at the HRC and US efforts to creatively push the human rights agenda, and debated the opportunities and challenges posed by the Arab Spring. Ultimately, Nossel encouraged the US government as well as NGOs to continue to participate in the HRC, to make an impact on human rights situations.
JBI Director Felice Gaer, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Suzanne Nossel, and JBI Chair E. Robert Goodkind at the JBI event.