Among the familiar hucksters who sought to capitalize on the troubles in Ferguson, Missouri, came a new face: Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and self-styled heir to the non-existent royal houses of Iraq and Syria.
“I am deeply concerned,” Prince Zeid said in a press release, about “institutionalized discrimination” in America, and “I urge the U.S. authorities” to conduct “in-depth examinations” of racial justice. Notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that Michael Brown’s death resulted from the criminal acts he engaged in before and during his encounter with officer Darren Wilson, Zeid’s Human Rights Council invited the Brown family to testify before a hearing and afterwards issued a 14-page condemnation of America’s record on race.
Self-awareness, it’s safe to say, is neither Prince Zeid’s nor the Human Rights Council’s strongpoint. Far from representing “the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” the Council includes many of the poster-children for abuse: Pakistan, Venezuela, China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Russia and Cuba.
But lecturing others, rather than vouchsafing its own integrity, is what the Council does best.
Just as he was admonishing Americans about Ferguson, for example, Prince Zeid also made news when he lashed out at Sri Lankan officials in Colombo for their temerity to question irregularities in the Council’s ongoing investigation into that country. The probe is the result of the government’s decisive victory in 2009 over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, which waged a bloody terrorist war for nearly three decades.
As the wars against terrorism have shown, from Afghanistan to Colombia to the Philippines, both the insurgencies and efforts to stop them aren’t tidy: Civilians bear the brunt of cruelty and crossfire. Sri Lanka’s war was no different, and there’s little doubt that innocent lives were lost. But there’s also little doubt that the government took greater measures to protect the populace from collateral damage than the Tamil Tigers and their suicide bombers, forced conscriptions, and extrajudicial killings.
Nonetheless, in March the Human Rights Council opened an investigation into possible human-rights abuses committed by both sides in the last phases of the war. Civilians and NGOs have been invited to submit testimonies alleging crimes they witnessed or suffered, and based on these the Council soon will determine whether a full-blown investigation is needed. Prince Zeid’s verdict, though, is already in.
Last month, however, Sri Lankan officials arrested a low-level Tamil Tiger cadre who possessed a list of 400 names and a sheaf of blank testimony forms that bore only the signatures of villagers in Sri Lanka. The villagers, many of whom were ill educated, were told the forms were for compensation by the UN; under questioning, however, the Tiger cadre admitted his group intended to submit fraudulent testimonies to UN investigators on the villagers’ behalf.
Armed with the false forms and other procedural discrepancies, Sri Lanka’s external affairs minister, Gamini Peiris, relayed his concerns about the impartiality of the Council’s investigation to a group of UN officials and diplomats.
Rather than show concern that his Council was being manipulated by a skilled terrorist network, Prince Zeid lashed out at the government in Colombo via press release.
Colombo’s concerns about irregularities are “absurd,” “insidious,” “false.” and “unsubstantiated,” he fumed. Indeed, the government’s “campaign of distortion and disinformation” is nothing more than an “affront” to the Council. “Why would governments with nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabotage an impartial international investigation?” the prince sniffed.
Why indeed? As with his hectoring of the United States, Israel, and so many others, Prince Zeid’s remarks reveal his “verdict first, trial later” approach. To paraphrase the Prince, why would respected international bodies with nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabotage legitimate concerns about its “impartial” investigation?
As the world seemingly burns, one might imagine there are numerous issues on which the UN Human Rights Council could focus its $4.3 billion budget — North Korea, perhaps, or even its own membership. According to UN Watch, a watchdog group, six countries that were deemed “not qualified” or human-rights abusers based on their domestic human-rights record were easily elected to the Human Rights Council in 2014.
Instead, Prince Zeid busies himself issuing press releases — on Ferguson and defensive spats with Sri Lankans, to be sure, but also on gay rights in the Gambia and how “rich countries” should not become “xenophobic gated communities.”
The Bush administration rightly boycotted (although continued to fund) the Human Rights Council. It was a decision reversed by the Obama administration. But in the future, responsible democracies, in the U.S. and abroad, would do well in opposing this preening and badly flawed institution.