Politics & Policy

Discrimination and Double Standards

Anti-Israeli past is present at the U.N.'s Human Rights Council.

The credibility of the flagship of U.N. “reform,” the newly created Human Rights Council, sunk during its very first session, which ended on Friday, June 30th. The deck chairs on the Titanic had been rearranged when the Council replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights. Serial human-rights abusers were elected members right from the start. Nevertheless, the Bush administration’s decision to vote against the Council, along with only three other states, was widely condemned as a sign of American disdain for multilateralism, disinterest in the welfare of human-rights protection, and a personal failure of American U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.

Dissenting voices in the State Department, such as the undersecretary of State for political affairs Nicholas Burns, tried to blunt American opposition by precipitous commitments “to support” the Council, “to fund it,” and to run for a seat at the next election in 2007. Support for the Council also came from Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth, who called it “an historic step towards enhanced human rights protection.” Amnesty International proclaimed it “a victory.” Congressman Tom Lantos (D., Calif.) “expressed outrage at the Bush administration decision…not seek a seat” on the Council, claiming it was “a clear improvement over the existing commission.”

The widespread misrepresentation of the Council made its self-immolation in its first two weeks of operation even more striking. The Human Rights Council is now the U.N.’s lead human-rights body, and examples of egregious human-rights violations should not have been hard to find. In Darfur, there are three quarters of a million people beyond humanitarian reach, 2.5 million people displaced by the violence, 385,000 people in immediate risk of starvation, and over two million dead in 22 years of violence and deprivation. But it wasn’t genocide in Sudan that interested the Human Rights Council. Nor was it a billion Chinese without civil and political rights. Not 13 million women in Saudi Arabia whose lives depend on hiding from sight in public places and never being caught behind the wheel of an automobile. Not the dire human-rights conditions of 23 million people in North Korea. Not Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s incitement to genocide or his country’s legal system, which includes crucifixion, stoning and amputation.

No; there was only one country singled out by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and that was Israel. The Council decided that the program for the first session should focus discussion on five issues; the first one being the “human rights situation in the occupied Arab Territories, including Palestine.” (The rest were “support for the Abuja Peace Agreement,” and three thematic subjects.) The Council placed criticism of Israel permanently on the agenda of all future sessions. It gave only the special investigator on Israel what amounted to a permanent mandate. On its final day, the Council passed just one resolution condemning human-rights violations by any of the 192 U.N. members, and directed it at Israel. When it was all over, the Council decided to hold its first special (emergency) session within a few days — on Israel.

The numbers explain it all. There are 47 states on the Human Rights Council divided among five regional groups. Fifty-five percent are from the African and Asian regional groups. In the May election, the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) garnered a majority on both the African and Asian regional groups, thereby giving them the balance of power. Since no criterion exists for Council membership other than geography, countries like China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were elected without difficulty. Furthermore, 32 of the 47 new Council members are from the so-called Group of 77, and when it comes to human rights, developing nations have proven themselves a highly effective protection racket.

The math similarly explains other results. There was a second Council resolution adopted by a vote on the defamation of religions. Its aim was to stifle free speech. The same minority that voted against the Israel resolution emerged in the minority a second time. It is now clear that there are only twelve countries on the Council, or one quarter of its members who are prepared to stand together as democracies. The resolution creating the Council redistributed seats from the Commission, decreasing the proportional representation of the Western group and increasing that of the Asian group. The consequence? The resolution on defamation of religions was adopted by the 2005 Commission by 58 percent; the Council resolution on this subject was adopted by 70 percent.

As Ambassador John Bolton foresaw, U.S. membership on the Council would not have made any difference to these outcomes. In fact, Ambassador Bolton was not alone in expecting the worst. Even the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights knew in advance not to webcast the proceedings beyond the diplomatic niceties of the session’s first week.

In other Council “improvements,” a decision by the Commission to hold a special session required a majority vote; at the Council, only one third of the members are required. On Friday, 21 of 47 members asked for a special session on Israel, thereby meeting the lower Council threshold. In fact, the 17 Islamic members alone satisfy the new requirement.

At the Commission, over a 40-year period, 30 percent of the resolutions condemning human rights violations by specific states were directed at Israel. The Council is now batting 1.000. And given a behind-the-scenes deal not to have any country-specific resolutions at least in the first year of operation (with the exception of Israel), that figure is not likely to change any time soon.

Perhaps one of the most insidious features of the U.N. world is the idea that the demonization of Israel is the reasonable price of doing business at the U.N. Human Rights Watch, for example, expressed “concern” about the Israel-bashing but concluded “the first session of the new U.N. Human Rights Council was largely successful in laying a foundation for its future work.”

The spectacle of discrimination and double standards applied to the Jewish state and unmistakably aimed at its delegitimization, however, may not strike Congressional leaders the same way. Senator Norm Coleman, cosponsor of the United Nations Management, Personnel, and Policy Reform Act of 2005, indicated on June 29 that withholding funds is a live option. On June 28, Representatives Scott Garrett, Michael McCaul, and Rick Renzi successfully sponsored various amendments involving funding cuts to American U.N. contributions in the Science, State, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations Bill. Representative McCaul’s amendment says “None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to fund the administration and operation of the United Nations Human Rights Council while countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism by the Secretary of State are members of the Council.” If finally adopted this provision would take effect immediately, since Cuba is both a member of the Council and also a designated state sponsor of terrorism. Senator Tom Coburn told a Senate subcommittee hearing on June 20 that the days of Americans writing blank checks to the U.N. were gone. In April, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said explicitly that he did not support U.S. funding for the Council.

The original mission of the U.N. was rooted in the legacy of the Holocaust, the shield of “never again,” and the lance of human-rights protection. We are witnesses to the hijacking of the Organization to serve the purveyors of bigotry and hate. Continuing to pay for the travesty should no longer be an option.

Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and at Touro College Law Center. She is also editor of www.EyeontheUN.org.

Anne Bayefsky — Professor A.F. Bayefsky, B.A., M.A., LL.B., M.Litt. (Oxon.), is a Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada, and a Barrister and Solicitor, Ontario Bar. She is also an Adjunct Professor at ...

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