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In the Council’s first year of operation, the group UN Watch figured that just 13 of the 47 members had positive voting scores. Several democracies, most notably India, Indonesia, Mali, Senegal, and South Africa, voted more like dictatorships.
During its short life the Council has taken several steps to prevent action against genuine human rights violators. Every UN state is supposed to face a periodic review of its human rights record. Yet no reviews were conducted in 2006, allowing the one-year members to escape oversight.
GOING FORWARD, the Council intends to hold 48 reviews a year, which will last all of three hours. The Council scheduled Israel to be among the first nations reviewed while waiting on many of the world’s worst human rights abusers.
Human rights experts are barred from participating in these reviews. Governments are to be “fully involved in the outcome” and the review is to take into account “the level of development and specificities of countries,” providing ample excuses for even the worst abuses.
The Council has focused on Israel — the latest denunciation was delivered at an emergency meeting in late January — eliminated the Special Rapporteurs for Belarus and Cuba, reduced the independence of the experts employed in reviewing countries, and created a new Code of Conduct to help shield miscreant states.
The Code emphasizes “restraint, moderation, and discretion” in discussing states that kill and jail their citizens.
At the behest of Muslim governments, led by Pakistan, the Council adopted a resolution denouncing the “defamation” of religion. This measure did not include any defense of freedom of religious belief and practice. Rather, the resolution, later approved by the General Assembly, sought to protect religion, namely Islam, from criticism, overriding free speech rights.
Finally, the Council has turned political correctness into an overarching, absurdist theme. For instance, at the 2001 UN Durban Racism Conference, Israel was singled out as a racist state — a logical outgrowth of the old UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.
The Durban spectacle continues, with planning for the UN Durban Racism Review Conference, scheduled for next year.
EVEN WHEN THE Council attempts to advance human rights, it does so only grudgingly. In October Vitit Muntarghorn, the Special Rapporteur on North Korea, painted an ugly picture — “the human rights situation in the DPRK remains grave in a number of key areas,” he explained.
Still, he made an extra effort to find good news on which to report. And the North remained unapologetic.
It is no wonder, then, that Robert Hagen, a member of the U.S. delegation to the UN, told the General Assembly in November, “Some appear more determined to use the Council to defend abusive governments than to protect the victims of human rights violations.”
Equally appalling is the UN’s willingness to routinely reward human rights abusers with leadership positions. Start with the Security Council — China and Russia are permanent members, while a multitude of bad actors, like Libya, elected last year, have filled the rotating spots.
But this is merely a start. As Anne Bayefsky pointed out, last May “Zimbabwe was elected to chair the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.”
As if any explanation was needed, she continued, “The government of Robert Mugabe vies for the title of the worst example of unsustainable development in modern times, having raped and pillaged the vast human and natural resources of the country for decades.”
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