Reforming United Nations institutions is often a fool’s errand. Yet, the Obama Administration chooses to draw no lessons from its attempt to improve the UN Human Rights Council, which just concluded its 10th anniversary session this month.
Ten years ago, the Human Rights Council was formed to replace its corrupt and discredited predecessor, the Human Rights Commission. Then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described the Commission as having “cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole” due to its biased selectivity, politicization, and corrupt efforts to shield its members from due scrutiny.
It’s easy to see why. At its end, the Commission included six of the most politically repressive regimes — China, Cuba, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Vietnam.
A genocide in Darfur was being perpetrated by Sudan, which had been elected a member of the Commission. The Syrian regime that has murdered tens of thousands of its own citizens was proposing to investigate U.S. war crimes in Iraq. And the U.S. itself had been kicked off the Commission.
A satirist could scarcely conceive so perverse a record. But has its successor been an improvement?
Despite Mr. Annan’s expressed the hope that the new Council’s membership would “have a solid record of commitment to the highest human rights standards,” in its first three years (2006-9), it eliminated probes into the serious human-rights abuses in Belarus, Congo, Cuba, Liberia, and Sudan. In that time, some 200,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced in Darfur alone.
Yet, in 2009, despite the fact that the Council was proving no better than its predecessor, the Obama Administration took the U.S. into the new body.
Why? The Obama Administration said it was seeking to moderate and improve the Council by promoting “universality, transparency and objectivity.” This, it contended, required America to be working inside the tent, rather than whinging outside it.
With the Council’s tenth anniversary, it is timely to ask if any improvement been registered in the seven years since the U.S. joined it.
The answer, again, however, is simply no.
The Council’s current membership includes Algeria, China, Congo, Cuba, Ethiopia, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Vietnam –– all human rights abusers.
None of these nations has ever been the subject of a single Council resolution, let alone a special session.
In contrast, the Council adopted 67 resolutions condemning free and democratic Israel –– more than half of the 128 resolutions it passed against the rest of world’s nations combined. In March alone, it moved five anti-Israel resolutions at the behest of serial rights abusers like Algeria, Cuba, and Sudan.
Asian and African autocracies have also acted in tandem to minimize scrutiny of nations like Zimbabwe, a veritable human-rights Enron. Indeed, Freedom House has declared that 62% of the Council’s membership are unfree and non-democratic.
No “solid record of commitment to the highest human rights standards” here.
Little else is to be expected. Thanks to the priority it accords to representation based on geographical distribution, the Council has fewer democracies and more autocracies than its predecessor. Thus, non-democratic African and Asian regimes exercise an unbreakable controlling majority of 26 of the 47 seats.
Consequently, U.S. opposition to the Council-commissioned Goldstone Report, which perverted international legal norms and procedures to find Israel guilty of war crimes in Gaza, did nothing to forestall or ameliorate this demonization of a fellow democracy — or prevent the UN General Assembly from endorsing it.
The American presence on the Council did not stop it from favoring the membership of Iran, despite its record of public hangings of gays. To get Iran to withdraw its candidacy, the Obama Administration had to acquiesce in Iran being elected unopposed to the UN Commission of the Status of Women, to which it has since been re-elected.
And despite objections from U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, the Council re-elected as Council adviser Jean Ziegler, co-founder and recipient of the Muammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize, whose recipients have included Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, black supremacist Louis Farrakhan, and Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy.
The only result of U.S. membership has been to taint it, while achieving next to nothing.
The Council provides a halo effect for perverters of human rights and its own disreputable findings and publications. It legitimizes those who abuse human rights while defaming those who uphold them.
Therefore, it would be better if free nations ceased to legitimize the Council with their participation and withdraw. The next president should do so without delay.