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Monday, April 06, 2009

Obama's human rights disaster

Ronan Farrow, a Yale law student, urges caution, but believes that the United States' joining of the UN's 'Human Rights Council' can make a difference.
The Obama administration's shift is a welcome step; the U.S. is overdue to apply its diplomatic weight to improve the behavior of Council members. But the merits of formal membership are less obvious. America's bid to join may represent too hasty an embrace of a body that still needs fundamental restructuring, not incremental improvements.

The U.S. is already able to flex its diplomatic muscle both behind the scenes and via a right for nonmembers to testify before the Council at will. Formally wielding a vote is unlikely to increase American influence. Because the Council is structured according to geographic bloc, America's seat will simply supplant another member of the "Western Europe and Other States" group, which already votes along almost uniformly progressive lines.

What's needed is an immediate call for serious reform. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., should urge that the review of Council policies by the General Assembly -- currently slated for April 2011 -- be undertaken as soon as possible. She should work to ensure that the Universal Periodic Review system, still in its infancy, be strengthened and made less politically manipulable. She should fight for expanded scrutiny of countries beyond Israel, and for specific condemnations of regimes responsible for mass atrocities, starting with Sudan.
But Anne Bayefsky, who has much more experience working with the Council than Farrow, believes that joining the Council is the worst thing the United States could do.
The council itself is controlled by human rights abusers who like it just the way it is. Membership is determined by distributing seats among five regional groups, with the African and Asian groups holding the majority. In turn, member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) hold a majority in each of the African and Asian groups. This gives the OIC the balance of power. When the going gets tough, the single U.S. vote, or the seven votes of the "Western European and Others Group" (WEOG), amount to a hill of beans. Resolutions are continually watered down for the sake of artificial consensus or adopted over the objection of every WEOG member. Just last week, we saw another sorry example of this phenomenon, with the adoption of a resolution on the "defamation of religions." What does restricting free speech in the name of "religion" have to do with protecting individual human rights?

By letting some of the world's worst regimes rub shoulders with its leading democracy, the United States becomes an enabler. These governments don't share Western or universal values. They use the council to: (1) feign interest in human rights, (2) keep the focus on Israel and away from themselves, (3) manufacture victim status, (4) encourage liberal guilt and concomitant financial responsibility, and (5) undermine the universal application of real human rights standards.

The record is incontrovertible. The council has passed more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all other 191 U.N. members combined. The council has one (of only ten) formal agenda items dedicated to criticizing Israel. And one agenda item to consider the human rights of the remaining 99.9 percent of the world's population. There have been 10 regular sessions on human rights for all, and five special sessions to condemn Israel alone. The council excludes only Israel from the key negotiating and information-sharing meetings of every regional group. It has terminated human rights investigations on Belarus, Cuba, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And all investigations of "consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms" in such states as Iran, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have been "discontinued."

Absolutely none of that will change with the United States sitting in the front row, Obama's rhetorical skills notwithstanding. On the contrary, joining this farce means accepting the discriminatory agenda and attending WEOG meetings with a sign reading "no representatives of the Jewish people allowed" hanging on the door.

The Council's one new device -- the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) -- was heralded as introducing a careful examination of all UN states without discrimination. What actually happens is that a series of human-rights abusers congratulate one another, avoid any serious scrutiny, and then denigrate the democracies that agreed to the travesty in the first place.
Bayefsky is correct. The Council itself was created in 2006 to replace the 'Human Rights Commission,' which had become similarly corrupt. 2006 was the time to take corrective action. Unfortunately, due to the 'one country, one vote" structure of the UN, the United States and its allies were unable to take that action. All the United States 'accomplishes' by joining the Council is to give credibility to to a body that is dominated by a group of nations whose actions are diametrically opposed to the Council's goals.

With US foreign affairs allegedly dominated by 'realists,' the United States should accept that the Council is what it is and shake off the illusion that by joining the Council, it will become what the United States would want it to be.


At 5:37 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

It won't. The world's worst regimes have no intention of pursuing an agenda that would lead to putting themselves out of existence. That's why the UN and "human rights" will remain any oxymoron. And not even the US can change it.


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