When President Bush told the United Nations General Assembly this week “the American people are disappointed by the failures of the Human Rights Council,” his words could not have been more timely or deserved. He pointed out “This body has been silent on repression by regimes from Havana to Caracas to Pyongyang and Tehran — while focusing its criticism excessively on Israel.” On Friday, the Council piled the dung heap higher. It wrapped up another session in Geneva by adopting two more resolutions against Israel and no resolutions critical of the human-rights record of any of the other 191 U.N. member states.
This brings the total of anti-Israel resolutions and decisions adopted by the “Human Rights” Council — in only the first 15 months of its operation — to 14. Another four very weak decisions and resolutions have been applied to Sudan. And the Council finally decided to hold a special session of the Council on Myanmar. So adding up the highly selective concerns of the U.N.’s lead human-rights agency: 74 percent of the Council’s moves against individual states have been directed at Israel, 21 percent at Sudan, 5 percent at Myanmar, and the rest of the world has been given a free pass.
European diplomats openly predict that within a year all U.N. special investigators dedicated to uncovering and reporting on human-rights violations in specific states will be abolished by the Council. These key mechanisms for human-rights protection were created with enormous difficulty over the past two decades. The axe wielded by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was first used in June to terminate the human-rights investigations on Cuba and Belarus. Then came the dithering over Sudan. While genocide continues in Darfur, the Council couldn’t decide this week whether a Sudan investigator was worth keeping. The matter was deferred for another three months. All other such investigators are on the chopping block — all that is, but one.
The only exception to the “rule” is the investigator assigned to Israel. The Council has extended the life of the Israel rapporteur until Council members deem the occupation to be over — notwithstanding that the controlling faction believe all of Israel to be occupied land. At the same time, there is no shortage of outbursts from the OIC railing against any other human rights investigator. With great indignation Egypt sputtered: “…decisions to create, review or discontinue a country mandate, should take into account the principles of cooperation and dialogue with the country…”
Israel-bashing, the sport of choice for U.N. diplomats the world over, presents a special conundrum for European diplomats. In its first month of operation the Council took a decision to hold a special session on Israel and then adopted a resolution containing a vitriolic attack on Israel, alone. The date was July 6, 2006 — a time when Hezbollah was making plans for a war it started shortly thereafter. The EU voted against both the decision to hold the special session and the resolution.
The 24-hour United Nations propaganda machine, however, never sleeps. There soon sprouted new resolutions to “follow-up” the first. The EU boldly held out when faced with the first such test — by abstaining on a follow-up item in December 2006. A few months later, and again today, the role of opposing the OIC was apparently too much to bear. The EU voted in favor of following-up a resolution with which it vehemently disagreed in the first place.
The justification which the EU provided for this about-face speaks volumes about the unique U.N.-pathos. Speaking on behalf of the EU, the Slovenian representative said:
…the EU was not in a position to support [the previous resolutions] S1-1 and S3-1 as they were unbalanced, did not reflect all relevant aspects of the situation and failed to call upon both parties to cease violence.
Sounds like pretty solid reasons for voting no. Then came this:
However, we agree that it is of vital importance that all States fully cooperate with the mechanisms of the HRC. Only then can the HRC effectively carry out its duty to ensure the promotion, protection and implementation of human rights. For this reason, we…will not oppose the present draft…
In short, according to Europeans the substance of a Human Rights Council decision — the decision-makers being such paragons of virtue as Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China, and Russia — has no bearing on the duty to implement it. Walking into the U.N. evidently means checking your moral compass at the door.
So what did get written down on the “Human Rights” Council’s moral tabula rasa this session?
‐ When the Council was first created a new “universal periodic review” (UPR) mechanism — to permit the examination of human rights in every state starting with current members — was touted as a serious part of its duties. Only real human-rights promoters would want to withstand the heat of three-hour conversations once every five years and so it would act as an incentive to keep the bad guys off. At this Council session they agreed on a timetable to conduct reviews. Guess what? Israel — with a snowball’s chance in hell of ever being on the Council — was among the first to be reviewed. Current members and human-rights enthusiasts Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, Russia, and Azerbaijan come later. Iran is three years away. And Syria, Sudan, and Zimbabwe are in 2011. If they play their cards right, they can run for office in 2008 and rotate off the Council before the review even gets around to them.
‐ Resolutions adopted Friday included stalwarts from the Council’s discredited predecessor, the Human Rights Commission — “human rights and international solidarity” and “human rights and unilateral coercive measures” — the usual nonsense aimed straight at the West and all values democratic.
‐ There was a dandy resolution on the Durban II racism conference — the newest U.N. forum for anti-semites from around the world being planned for 2009. The resolution calls for the Libyan Chair of the Preparatory Committee to come to New York to present a report in person to the General Assembly. (Distributing the written report is not good enough.) The cost of the visit? $8,400 according to the Secretariat — for a 15-30 minute presentation. In case you were wondering, American taxpayers will pay 22 percent of those costs.
‐ Then there were lots of resolutions on racism — all designed to bring hysterical accusations of Islamophobia and dastardly cartoons to the fore. In line with the sponsors’ genuine concern for religious discrimination, Pakistan objected to “Jewish holidays” being used as a pretext for violating the human rights of Palestinians.
‐ At the insistence of the OIC, a new clause has become de rigueur for the mandate of every investigator on every human rights subject, country-oriented or thematic. The provision imposes a code of conduct which threatens to seriously interfere with their independence,
‐ My personal favorite was the Egyptian-led resolution, entitled “From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Adopted over the negative votes of all Western and Eastern European democracies, who are totally outnumbered in the Council, it
decides that the future agenda of the Intergovernmental Working Group will focus on the following paramount issues…re-aligning the work and name of the Anti-Discrimination Unit in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights…and that, henceforth, this Unit shall be known as “The Anti-Racial Discrimination Unit,” and that its operational activities shall focus exclusively on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, as defined in…the Durban Declaration.
In other words, for anybody who has any idea of talking about anything but Islamophobia, you’re days are numbered.
In the meantime, the day-to-day camaraderie of the UN Human Rights Council proved a comfortable place to express the following sentiments:
‐ Egypt: “…the offensive publication of portraits of the Prophet Mohamed…has highlighted the damage that freedom of speech if left unchecked may lead to, not only hurting the religious feelings of more than a billion people, but also their freedom of religion and their right for respect of their religion.”
‐ Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC: “…terrorist acts carried out by non-state actors, in the name of religion, should be de-linked from religion to ensure freedom of religion for the peaceful followers of that faith.”
‐ Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC: “The international community must address the root causes of terrorism, such as the situations of grave injustice and repression involving Muslims, and conditions of poverty and lack of opportunity, which fuel extremism and terrorism.”
‐ Syria: “Freedom of opinion had been utilized to humiliate Islam and to cause hatred and instigate violence.”
‐ Bangladesh: “…freedom of expression…cannot be absolute nor infinite. It must be exercised with respect and responsibility…”
‐ Iran: “…the right to freedom of expression is not absolute.”
‐ Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC: “Islamophobia is also a crude form of anti-Semitism.”
‐ Algeria: “…there is an upswing in anti-Semitism that now targets Arabs… and Muslims.”
The story line is always the same: Arabs are the victims of anti-semitism, Jew-hatred is off the radar screen; a billion people have been gravely wounded by a few cartoons in a newspaper published some two-thirds the way to the North Pole; freedom of expression is legitimately curtailed for just about every imaginable offense — particularly in Islamic dictatorships; religion is irrelevant to understanding and preventing terrorism, despite the fact that terrorists terrorize in the name of religion; and terrorists are driven by poverty and lack of opportunity — in other words, our dead are our fault.
Alongside what passes at the U.N. for “human rights” protection, stands the eminently reasonable legislation that has come from both the House and the Senate calling for an end to American funding for the Human Rights Council. The House passed their version of the Department of State Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act on June 22 and included by unanimous agreement an amendment introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to refuse any funding for the Council. In the Senate version, proposed by Senator Norm Coleman and adopted unanimously on September 6, an exemption law was inserted by Senators Richard Lugar and Joe Biden. It would refuse funding for the fiscal year 2008 unless the President certifies either that providing the funds to the Council is in the national interest of the United States, or the U.S. is a member of the Council. Conference negotiations are underway, but some form of the restriction is expected to survive.
As well it should. And when it does, it will be time for the president to translate his words on Tuesday into action. Not only are we disappointed, we’re disgusted and we don’t want to pay another nickel.
— Anne Bayefsky is senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. She also serves as the director of the, Touro Institute for Human Rights and the Holocaust and as the editor of EYEontheUN.org.