Human rights ambassador emphasizes ‘engagement’

Keith Harper, the U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, spoke at the Elliott School this week. Aly Kruse | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Keith Harper, the U.S. ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, spoke at the Elliott School of International Affairs Monday. Aly Kruse | Hatchet Staff Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Tanvi Banerjee.

Keith Harper, the U.S. representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council, spoke to dozens of attendees in the Elliott School of International Affair’s City View room Monday evening on global human rights and how the council has changed since he joined the group in 2014.

He encouraged every U.S. citizen to be more actively involved in human rights issues globally.

“Engagement is always better than non-engagement,” Harper said. “Whether you are on the council or not on the council, the important thing is not the council, but your engagement.”

He said the U.S. has worked to promote human rights already in countries like Iran and North Korea, but those efforts should continue.

“We are in the enviable position to starkly contrast what the record looks like,” he said.

Harper, who is the first Native American to ever earn the rank of ambassador, added that before the U.S. joined the Human Rights Council under the leadership of President of Barack Obama, the council had a “hyperfocus” on Israel.

He said the council has now turned the conversation to focus on issues in North Korea, a region they believe has widespread and systematic human rights violations.

“There has been a fundamental shift in the conversation,” Harper said. “We are now not talking about whether they have problems, but how to address these problems.”

Harper added that while the U.N. Human Rights Council has member countries like Burundi and Saudi Arabia, which have questionable records of human rights violations, the problems in those nations are improving but remain a challenge.

“What is important is what we are able to achieve despite having such members on the council,” he said.

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