The EU and human rights at the UN: 2009 annual review

The EU?s ongoing loss of influence at the UN is putting lives at risk, argues the author of ECFR’s latest paper


The EU's ongoing loss of influence at the UN is putting lives at risk, the author of a new paper from the European Council on Foreign Relations argues.

As world leaders gather in New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, the paper – The EU and human rights at the UN: 2009 annual review –  by ECFR's UN experts Richard Gowan and Franziska Brantner MEP warns that the EU is losing its ability to push the UN to respond to humanitarian crises.

Earlier this year, the EU was repeatedly thwarted in its efforts to use the UN to pressure the Sri Lankan government to allow humanitarian aid in during its assault on Tamil areas, which led to tens of thousands of civilian casualties. China and Russia blocked EU attempts to force Colombo's hand in the Security Council, and the EU found itself outmanoeuvred and outvoted in the Human Rights Council.

The paper – the authors' follow-up to their report last year on the EU's performance in human rights debates at the UN – also reveals that the number of states most fiercely opposed to the EU's human rights positions at the UN has swollen to 40 this year from 19 last year. Since the late 1990s when the EU enjoyed the support of over 70% of the UN General Assembly in human rights votes, support of the EU's human rights position has haemorrhaged: the EU has lost the backing of 13 former allies on human rights votes in the last year – 117 of the UN's 192 members now typically vote against the EU.

Gowan and Brantner argue that while the Obama administration's decision to re-engage with the UN following the obstructionism of the previous administration has generated a new spirit of optimism, European governments have failed to capitalise on this new mood and are increasingly allowing their opponents to set the agenda and dominate human rights debates and effectively endorse human rights abuses.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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