Several EU successes in 2011, including on Libya and Syria, overturned the assumption that the UN Human Rights Council is irredeemably anti-Western.
The EU made significant progress in advancing its human rights agenda through the UN system in 2011. It not only used the UNHRC to put pressure on Libya and Syria but also won victories on homosexual rights and religious free speech. In some cases, American diplomatic activism was decisive in winning states over to non-Western positions, but Europeans were also very active. In the case of Libya, there was unanimous support at the UNHRC in March for stripping the Gaddafi regime of its seat on the council. The UNGA also confirmed the decision. In the case of Syria, the EU and the US pushed for UN investigations into abuses from the spring onwards. Arab states were initially wary, but as the situation in Syria deteriorated, they became increasingly supportive of the Western position. Thus, although China and Russia continued to oppose action against Syria by the UNHRC, they found themselves increasingly isolated. In November, the UNGA also passed a resolution condemning Damascus that was sponsored by all EU member states.
In the spring, American diplomats also persuaded Muslim countries to withdraw a routine UNHRC resolution condemning the “defamation of religions”, a coded attack on freedom of religious expression. An alternative resolution on religious toleration, sponsored by the EU as a bloc, offered a consensual alternative. This gave Europeans a role in resolving a perennially difficult UN human rights debate. EU member states and the US co-ordinated a drive against violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, which resulted in an UNHRC resolution on the topic in July. Against Chinese and Russian objections, EU member states and the US also sponsored a resolution appointing a UN rapporteur on freedom of assembly. Although the UNHRC remains challenging for the EU, these successes have overturned the assumption that it is irredeemably anti-Western. However, China and Russia ensured that the UNSC did not follow the UNHRC in condemning Syria.