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12th August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:55 pm

Wonk’d: Why the UN Human Rights Council Blows


As I’ve noted in my two previous posts, I’m both a fan and a critic of the United Nations.  But if there’s one thing the United Nations does really really really badly, it’s human rights.

It wasn’t always this way.  Thanks in part to the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the early years of the United Nations adopted both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention.  Over the next several decades, a number of other important treaties followed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, among others.

Lately, however, not so much.  The UN Commission on Human Rights became so disreputable — by doing things like electing Libya as chair and failing to take action on Rwanda — that the UN decided to abolish it and replace it with a new body that would address many of its shortcomings.

During the 2005 UN Millennium Summit, the General Assembly agreed to the creation of a new Human Rights Council, supposedly putting into place safeguards that would prevent similar problems in the future.  Sadly, the United States chose not to play a central role in the negotiations over how the Council would be constituted or how it organizes itself.  Thank you, John Bolton, you self-righteous paleocon jerk.

(Full disclosure:  Steve Clemons, Scott Paul (both of the Washington Note), Don Kraus (my successor as CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions) and I organized the successful opposition to the Bolton nomination.)

(And for the UN wonks out there, yes I know I’m oversimplifying this timeline.  But please keep in mind that I’m not writing for you.)

So there we were, a new start, a new opportunity to do serious human rights work.

Whoopsie.

Sigh.

Today we have a body that in many ways is worse than its predecessor.  There are a lot of issues that the Council should be looking at these days — Darfur, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Pakistan, and Iraq, to name just a few.  Instead, the it has spent almost all of its time on one issue:  Israel.

The reasons for this have to do not with human rights in that country –- which, to be clear, should be looked at, as should human rights issues in every country.  Rather it’s the product of those who currently sit on the Council.  Dictatorships make up over half the Council’s membership. They have spotlighted Israel to deflect attention from the human rights abusers within their own ranks, as well as to stick it to the West (and, to be clear, Israel).

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration continues to refuse to engage the Council, deciding not to stand for election and even failing to send an Ambassador to Council meetings.  Of course that’s assuming it could even get elected to the Council, given its own human rights record.  Either way, its actions have only encouraged the misbehavior and discouraged those who would stand up to such nonsense.

And then, late last week, we have the latest outrage:

A former spokesman for Cuba’s foreign ministry was appointed this week to head the United Nations Human Rights Council’s advisory committee.  Radio Rebelde says Miguel Alfonso Martinez, is president of the Cuban Society of International Law, was appointed this Monday to head the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council.

Oy vey.  Oh wait — saying that might get me investigated by the Council.

This isn’t the first bad appointment either.  Richard Falk, a Princeton professor who has compared Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip to Nazi Germany, is the Council’s Special Rapporteur on. . . wait for it. . .Israel.  And Jean Ziegler, who once helped Muammar Qaddafi establish a peace prize named after the dictator and who has praised, among others, Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro, was elected to the Council’s Advisory Committee.

The Council has more than a bad joke.  It’s a black eye for the UN and and embarrassment to the entire world.  Furthermore, it has become a convenient whipping boy for the paleocons here in the United States.

It’s time to start over. . .again.

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008 at 2:55 pm and is filed under foreign policy, globalization, politics, world at home. It is tagged under , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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