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Published in Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 35(4) 2010: 449-68.
The Human Rights Council of the United Nations was inaugurated in 2006 to much acclaim. Promising to defuse the tensions that had overwhelmed its maligned predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, the council is based on the belief that depoliticizing human-rights discussions would enhance the effectiveness of the United Nations in the realm of human-rights promotion. This article investigates just what type of compliance pressure the council, particularly through its Universal Periodic Review mechanism, has been able to develop over countries through comparing the genesis and workings of the council to existing accounts of how actors influence each other in international politics. It is argued that the reforms instigated by the council may have shifted the system away from the overt politicization previously experienced, but they have certainly not removed totally the role of state politics in rights promotion. As such, they represent conceptually a middle position, identified by Thomas Risse, known as “rhetorical action.” Identifying this allows for an analysis of the potential success of the council, as existing accounts of this type of compliance pressure have developed “scope conditions” about what the precursors for successful compliance are. Using these conditions, the article concludes that the council’s prospects may not live up to the acclaim that surrounded its creation.