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UNHRC- What and why, US’s withdrawal from it


  • GS Paper-2, International Relations

Why in news?

  • The United States recently withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
  • It is essential at this juncture to understand the role of the council in human rights issues.

What is UNHRC?

  • The HRC was established in 2006 as part of the UN’s reform process.
  • It replaced the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
  • UNHRC is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, made up of 47 States.
  • Members are elected by the UNGA with 3-year terms, with a maximum of 2 consecutive terms.
  • They are responsible for promotion and protection of human rights.
  • It meets 3 times a year to examine human rights violations worldwide.
  • Its resolutions are not legally binding but carry moral authority.

What are the issues?

  • The main criticism is that it is made up of states not known for their human rights records.
  • Many have, in fact, been violators of human rights.
  • Current members include Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Pakistan, and the UK and a few elected based on geographic quotas.

Why is it still important?

  • HRC has a fair track record of taking up human rights agenda.
  • It has facilitated the evolution of human rights norms.
  • There are many less tangible gains from having such a body in place.
  • Resolutions adopted have highlighted rights violations, despite resistance by some members.
  • The situation in Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, and North Korea are few examples.
  • Issues that have been the source of much controversy have been addressed at the HRC, including LGBTIQ rights.
  • It is also a forum to monitor international obligations of a state based on international law.
  • HRC is thus an important component of the UN rights system.
  • Its sustenance with credibility is significant for handling global human rights issues.

US’s HRC membership

  • Under former US President Barack Obama’s the US was elected for a maximum of 2 consecutive terms by the UNGA.
  • It was re-elected in 2016 after a year off for the third term.
  • The US was half-way through a three-year term but now it would be the first member to withdraw from the council.

On what ground did US made this decision?

  • The HR council recently voted to probe killings in Gaza and accused Israel of using excessive force.
  • The US and Australia cast the only “no” votes.
  • US’s current move comes as a response to the alleged bias of UNHRC against Israel.
  • The disproportionate focus and unending hostility are cited as proof for the Council’s political bias.
  • It is also a response to the intense criticism against US for detaining children at the US-Mexico border.
  • UN human rights chief called on Washington to halt its “unconscionable” separation policy.
  • Trump administration had long threatened to quit if council reforms were not undertaken.
  • The US perceives the council’s membership as disrespect for the most basic rights.
  • The US wants to make it easier to expel member states with poor rights records.
  • Currently, two-thirds majority of UN General Assembly is needed to suspend a member state.
  • US expressed dissatisfaction at Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt for thwarting US efforts to reform the council.
  • The US has maintained that the withdrawal was not any retreat from its human rights commitments.

What do such decisions reflect?

  • Washington’s withdrawal is the latest US rejection of multilateral engagement.
  • The earlier ones are withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and Iran nuclear deal.
  • HRC reform discussions are going on, with engagement by states and human rights organisations.
  • It thus shows US’s impatience to stay on course a multilateral process.
  • It signals that US is not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy.
  • By giving up its role at the HRC, it reduces its ability to influence the human rights agenda.
  • Withdrawal would make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities around the world.
  • It could bolster countries such as Cuba, Russia, Egypt and Pakistan.
  • These countries resist UN’s authority citing it as interference in their sovereign issues.
  • Many countries are now advocating withdrawal.

 Artificial Intelligence (AI)-What & Why



  • GS Paper-3, Science & Technology

Why in news?

  • McKinsey recently published a paper on the marketplace potential of AI, which is a worthy read.
  • McKenzie’s report analyzed that the potential impact of AI is worthy of consideration.

What is the current scenario with regards to AI?

  • AI majorly being applied successfully to tasks that not long ago were viewed as the exclusive domain of humans.
  • AI is likely to become one of the most important technologies of our era.

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

  • Artificial Intelligence is an advanced stage of automation, where machines become capable of some form of decision making and cognitive functions.
  • By virtue of analytical techniques, some form of preliminary automation has been existent since the 1970s.
  • But performance of traditional analytics tends to plateau as the data set become considerably large, which was a major impediment.
  • Contrarily, the evolving “Machine Learning Techniques” perform better with larger data sets, and their data requirements are also more massive.
  • Machine learning methods are particularly valuable in extracting patterns from complex, unstructured data, including audio, speech, images and video.
  • However, if a threshold of data volume is not reached, robust AI that could add value to the traditional analytics techniques, can’t be built.
  • AI has the potential to play a major role in three important business functions namely – process automation, cognitive analytics, and people engagement.

How fast is AI progressing?

  • Over the last few years, the necessary ingredients have come together to propel AI beyond research labs into the marketplace.
  • Inexpensive and yet powerful computer technologies; huge amounts of data; and advanced algorithms including machine learning have taken over recently.
  • Nonetheless, it is still early stages, and only leading-edge technology companies are presently in procession of advanced AI systems.
  • But considering the rapidity in the way AI is progressing, it is pertinent for us to ideate now on – AI’s economic potential, its limitations and challenges etc.

What does Mckinsey’s paper focus on?

  • The paper is focused on machine learning and based its study on more than 400 use-cases across 19 industries and 9 business functions.
  • Two-thirds of the opportunities to use AI are in improving the performance of existing analytical tools, and reducing human intervention.
  • This implies that, AI majorly being applied successfully to tasks that not long ago were viewed as the exclusive domain of humans.
  • Only 15% of the use cases studied by McKinsey are green-field cases, in which only machine learning techniques can be used.
  • In the remaining 15% of cases, machine learning provided limited additional performance over existing analytical methods.
  • It has been estimated that the potential value that AI would add to the global economy ranged between $3.5 trillion and $5.8 trillion annually.
  • This is about 40% of the overall value for all analytical techniques.
  • The most probable areas where AI’s potential could be reaped are retail, transport, logistics, and travel.

What is the way ahead?

  • In line with the current trend, companies are likely to adopt AI by incrementally leveraging and ramp up their existing analytics capabilities.
  • For this, they need to make sure that they have access to the necessary data for the envisioned up-gradation.
  • Such a pragmatic approach to getting on the AI learning curve is more sensible than attempting to tackle advanced, green-field AI problems.
  • Notably, the latter requires the kinds of skills and data that are generally only available to tech giants.


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