As gross human-rights violations continue to plague much of our planet, the U.N.’s lead human-rights body, the Human Rights Council, remains fixated on Israel, leaving the Obama administration in need of a strategy for justifying its policy of “engagement,” and particularly American membership in the HRC. The new strategy of choice? Misrepresentation. The State Department has posted on its website an account, photo and all, of HRC action on an egregious human-rights violation — action that didn’t happen.
Soon after he took office, President Obama decided the United States should join the HRC. On October 1, the last day of the HRC’s most recent session, the United States’ U.N. mission to Geneva issued a press release heralding the administration’s engagement approach. Ambassador Eileen Donahoe, who chaired the finance committee of National Women for Obama during the 2008 campaign, is quoted as declaring that the council has “made historic progress . . . in advancing the rights of human-rights defenders throughout the world.” But her sales pitch depends on a serious distortion of events.
By the time this “historic” session advancing human rights had ended, the council had spent the same amount of time on its agenda item devoted entirely to Israel-bashing as on its single agenda item on all the “human-rights situations that require the Council’s attention” anywhere else in the world. Tallying all the resolutions that the Council adopted targeting any of the 192 U.N. member states, there were two resolutions condemning Israel, one resolution on “assistance” to Somalia, one on “advisory services and technical assistance” to Cambodia, and one “congratulat[ing] the Government and the people of the Sudan for . . . the April 2010 elections.” Those were the widely criticized elections that handed President Bashir another term after 21 years in office, notwithstanding that he has been indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court.
Justifying American membership on the council and the legitimization that U.S. membership brings is, therefore, a challenge. But few would have expected that the administration would attempt to meet that challenge by leading the American public to believe the council had held a meeting to respond to a terrible human-rights violation — when in fact no such meeting had taken place.
Since late July, gang rapes have been systematically carried out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and impunity for the rapists has been standard practice. The attackers are mostly members of rebel militias, but government troops have also been implicated. Victims have included baby boys and women aged 110. U.N. peacekeepers stationed just 20 miles away, and warned of impending violence, did nothing to stop 240 rapes over a four-day period in early August. Given what we know about the council’s routine in the case of Israel, it could have held a special session, or held an urgent debate during September’s regular session, or started an investigation, or adopted a resolution condemning the atrocities and demanding that the perpetrators be prosecuted.
The council did none of the above. On September 27, two months after the attacks began, it held an “informal dialogue” on the DRC during a lunch hour. The meeting was not listed in the U.N. bulletin that is supposed to provide notice of informal meetings. The council president gave just 15 minutes’ advance notification of the event, which was deliberately organized to take place outside the council chamber. This meant there was no webcasting service, no recording of the event, and no U.N. press release summarizing it. The DRC minister on human rights and justice, who had originally indicated he would come, did not show up; thus the so-called dialogue was held without the representative of the state involved. To put it in perspective, a lunch meeting on systematic mass rapes had less status than the lunch meeting organized a few weeks earlier with plenty of notice in the U.N. bulletin on “Non-State Service Provision in Water and Sanitation.”