The credibility of President Obama’s “speak softly and carry a wet U.N. noodle” foreign policy took a major hit on Friday when it was discovered that Iranian thugs have been given carte blanche to participate in and wander around the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva intimidating Iranian dissidents.
The president’s decision to join the U.N.’s top human-rights body in 2009, and more recently to seek a second three-year term on the Council, is one of the centerpieces of his “engagement” strategy. Neither the membership of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and Cuba on this human-rights agency, nor three years of incessant Israel-bashing, has deterred the administration from attempting to legitimize the Council. It is not surprising, therefore, that Iran is evidently not feeling the heat.
In early March the Iranian mission to the U.N. in Geneva informed the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in writing that 21 officials would be “participating in the 19th session of the Human Rights Council,” now underway. Among them is one Gholam Hossein Esmaeili, “Head of the prisons organization and rehabilitation and preventive programs.”
Esmaeili has another claim to fame — he is on an EU sanctions list and subject to a travel ban and assets freeze as a person “responsible for grave human rights violations.” The EU decision of April 12, 2011, imposing the restrictions specifies that Esmaeili was “complicit in the massive detention of political prisoners and covering up abuses performed in the jailing system.” The Iranian government apparently believed he would be quite comfortable participating in the U.N.’s idea of a human-rights body.
It turns out Iran also thought that by participating in the human-rights body it could import some of the tactics acceptable back home. On March 12, 2012, the U.N. was considering a report on human rights in Iran produced by a special rapporteur/investigator. Iranian dissidents were in attendance as observers. Just prior to the commencement of the so-called “interactive dialogue” between states and the investigator, U.N. security guards approached two dissidents and asked them to step outside for questioning. Iranian diplomats, the guards explained, had complained that the two had been taking photographs of Iranian representatives.
After their laptop was examined, the two NGO members were allowed to return to the Council session but shortly thereafter were approached by Iranian diplomats directly. A loud exchange occurred in the back of the Council chamber itself, with Iranian representatives insisting on examining the computer files of the Iranian NGOs. Ultimately, the diplomatic goons took out their cameras and photographed the NGO members inside the Council room. Despite the fact that multiple complaints over the harassment were lodged with U.N. officials, no U.N. action was taken.
Iranian strong-arm tactics also appear to be having an effect on U.N. member states. This week the Council is expected to adopt a shamefully weak resolution on human rights in Iran. The operative part of the draft is three measly sentences long and fails to mention a single word about human-rights violations in Iran. It puts off doing anything by simply mandating more reports in the future.
The resolution also contains a pitiful plea for Iran “to cooperate” with the U.N. special investigator and “to permit access to visit the country” — notwithstanding the fact that Iran has not admitted a U.N. special rapporteur on human-rights violations in Iran since 1996. As the head of the Iranian delegation Mohammad Javad Ardeshir Larijani, “Secretary of the High Council for Human Rights,” explained to the Council on March 12, 2012, the problem was the “Zionist mafia,” since “we are . . . a democracy system, a polity based on Islamic rationality . . . peaceful and respectful coexistence . . . truth, dignity, and justice.”
The Iranian offensive within the U.N. human-rights framework had one more front last week. Back in 2007, with then–U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour in attendance, the 117 countries of the non-aligned movement (NAM) met in Tehran and adopted the “Tehran Declaration and Programme of Action on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity.” The Declaration established a “NAM Center for Human Rights and Cultural Diversity” to be headquartered in Tehran. On Friday, March 16, 2012, “the Permanent Mission of Iran” organized a meeting of this center on U.N. premises in Geneva; the invitation to the public was issued in a U.N. document entitled “Bulletin of informal meetings held in parallel to the [Human Rights Council] session.”
The title of the Iranian meeting that was facilitated by the U.N. was “Emerging New International Human Rights Institutions/Mechanisms in the NAM Region,” and the moderator was the Iranian center’s director. Oddly enough, the emergence of Holocaust denial as government policy, the advocacy of genocide, the sponsorship of state terrorism, and the provision of arms to a neighboring government engaged in the commission of crimes against humanity were not discussed.
Under the Obama administration, American taxpayers are paying 22 percent of the costs of the U.N. “Human Rights” Council: the bulletins, the documents, the voting machines, the microphones, the global webcasts, the translations, the facilities, the salaries of U.N. officials, and on and on. Iran isn’t perverting human rights and freedoms all by itself.
— Anne Bayefsky is Director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.