Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Joke That Is The UN Human Rights Council

Much has already been written about the inability of the UN to take serious action on human rights, largely due to its preference of sovereign equality over human rights, in which states are able to enjoy their full rights within the UN regardless of their adherence to international human rights norms. This is nowhere more clear than in the new Human Rights Council, which was intended to solve some of these problems. However, it was clear from the beginning that the Council was flawed, as there were still no criteria for membership. To date, the Council has spent almost all of its time denouncing Israel for human rights violations in the occupied territories, but has made no mention of the situations in Darfur, North Korea, Zimbabwe, or anywhere else.

Over at Opinio Juris, guest blogger Elizabeth Cassidy from UN Watch has a post about a recent speech given before the Council by the Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer. In the speech (which you can read here along with the response by the president of the Council, Luis Alfonso de Alba), Neuer argues that:

[The Council] has enacted one resolution after another condemning one single state: Israel. In eight pronouncements—and there will be three more this session—Hamas and Hezbollah have been granted impunity. The entire rest of the world—millions upon millions of victims, in 191 countries—continue to go ignored.

So yes, this Council is doing something. And the Middle East dictators who orchestrate this campaign will tell you it is a very good thing. That they seek to protect human rights, Palestinian rights.

So too, the racist murderers and rapists of Darfur women tell us they care about the rights of Palestinian women; the occupiers of Tibet care about the occupied; and the butchers of Muslims in Chechnya care about Muslims.

But do these self-proclaimed defenders truly care about Palestinian rights?

Let us consider the past few months. More than 130 Palestinians were killed by Palestinian forces. This is three times the combined total that were the pretext for calling special sessions in July and November. Yet the champions of Palestinian rights—Ahmadinejad, Assad, Khaddafi, John Dugard—they say nothing. Little 3-year-old boy Salam Balousha and his two brothers were murdered in their car by Prime Minister Haniyeh’s troops. Why has this Council chosen silence?

Because Israel could not be blamed. Because, in truth, the dictators who run this Council couldn’t care less about Palestinians, or about any human rights.

They seek to demonize Israeli democracy, to delegitimize the Jewish state, to scapegoat the Jewish people. They also seek something else: to distort and pervert the very language and idea of human rights.

You ask: What has become of the founders’ dream? With terrible lies and moral inversion, it is being turned into a nightmare.

In response, the president of the Council issued this statement:

For the first time in this session I will not express thanks for that statement. I shall point out to the distinguished representative of the organization that just spoke, the distinguished representative of United Nations Watch, if you'd kindly listen to me. I am sorry that I'm not in a position to thank you for your statement. I should mention that I will not tolerate any similar statements in the Council. The way in which members of this Council were referred to, and indeed the way in which the council itself was referred to, all of this is inadmissible. In the memory of the persons that you referred to, founders of the Human Rights Commission, and for the good of human rights, I would urge you in any future statements to observe some minimum proper conduct and language. Otherwise, any statement you make in similar tones to those used today will be taken out of the records.
The hypocracy of this is especially galling since, as Cassidy notes:
Over the past year in the Council, ambassadors have called each other, UN experts, and representatives of NGOs "ignorant" and other similar insults. Sudan and its allies have denied the existence of human rights violations in Darfur, and Iran has denied the Holocaust. Nigeria has defended the use of the death penalty by stoning against homosexuals. The invective against Israel has included accusations of "an Israeli Holocaust against the Palestinian people," a "thirst for the blood" of civilians, and of being "an apartheid regime" and even "an invader from the planet Mars." The United States has been accused of running a "concentration camp" at Guantanamo Bay and of "genocide" against Cuba. The United Kingdom has been called a "colonial slave-master." Sweden has been accused of "ethnic cleansing" against anyone who does not have the coloring of "former Viking conquerors." Yet all of these statements, and many others like them, have been thanked and deemed admissible by the Council Chair.
The UN simply cannot be an effective arbiter or monitor of human rights. So long as it refuses to place the value of those rights above that of sovereign equality, the Council will continue to be hijacked by those that seek to divert attention to Israel, that while perhaps deserved certainly does not excuse ignoring the much worse abuses going on elsewhere.

PS: Over at Opinio Juris, you can watch a YouTube video that highlights some of the things delegates have said in front of the Council that have been allowed as admissible....

5 comments:

WeeZie said...

So what would be a better avenue to try people for human rights violations? You don't refute that Israel does those things (that is pretty hard to refute)but you deplore the fact that things aren't even handed. This comes from a general distrust of the U.N but you know better than most who operates the UN. The most effective U.N role, the security council, is tightly in the grips of the United States and it solely determines what happens in the world. Just as with the IMF, the U.S has final say on what goes through and what doesn't. And I don't know where you can compare stoning people in Nigeria to a 50 year long occupation but hey, any thing to be an apologist for occupation and war right?

WeeZIe

Seth Weinberger said...

The question of what should be done is an excellent one, albeit very difficult. If the UN is not a viable option, the best alternative is to build a new human rights institution that is connected to, for example, the international economic institutions. If a state wants to benefit from the WTO, IMF, World Bank, etc., it will have to join the new HR institution and comport to its rules. That is the only viable alternative for creating an enforceable international human rights regime.

I'm not sure how you can claim that the UNSC is "tightly in the grups of the US." Did the UNSC approve the invasion of Iraq? Or of Kosovo? It seems that it would have if it was controlled by the US as you claim. 4 other countries have veto power and equal status on the UNSC, so while the US may have final say, so do Russia, China, France and the UK, all of which can equally control what the Security Council does and does not do.

One more thing, Weezie. Your ad hominem attack on me for comparing Israel to Nigeria is absurd and inappropriate. I simply will not put up with your personal attacks and insults. Perhaps stonings in Nigeria don't equal the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians (which is 40 years old, not 50), but the situations in North Korea, Zimbabwe, or Sudan certainly do. So please stop resorting to straw man arguments in an effort to paint me as an "apologist for occupation and war." If you continue to do so, I'll start deleting your comments. They have no place in academic discourse.

WeeZie said...

Fair enough, although I don't see how a made a straw man argument. Rather, I pointed out the unstable nature of what you wrote. In terms of the occupation, that all depends on ones perspective. I say 50 years because the war in 48 left hundreds of thousands of refugees and the fact that their land is now Israel makes that somewhat of an occupation itself. The Gaza and West bank occupations came later.

In terms of the suggestion you made, what can be done if states do not want to participate in one of the neo-liberal organizations? Certainly North Korea is not going to stop its atrocities in order to appeal to the IMF. Sticking to that point, considered that the U.S has a 17% voting power in the IMF and things need 90% to pass, that would mean that the United States would effectively control human rights (and as we can see from the past 110 years, starting with the Spanish American War) the United States is no real champion of human rights.

If you look at the UN General assembly resolutions, which have called for the refugees to be able to return, which is part of the U.N charter, there have been only a handful of nations in the world that have vote against the resolutions. For the good part of the last 30 or so years, the GA has passed a resolution and every single time, it has been voted against by Israel, the United States and little small islands, such as Macao or Palau or whatever else. Hardly the international consensus on the this issue.

I am not being disrespectful and your threat of deleting my comments is, i think, unwarranted. I like reading the things you write (although I don't agree with it) and engage with you on them. Neither of us will benefit if I simply comment and gush about how right you are. Certainly, poking holes in peoples argument makes their argument better next time around.

The situations in North Korea, Zimbabwe, or Sudan are not occupations. Comparing them to equal conflicts would suffice but you are comparing recent events, tribal feuds and that lunatic in North Korea to a systemic, finally calculated occupation. It is not that these other things aren't bad Seth, they certainly are but these things are not financed by the United States. As American citizens who pay taxes, we have to first speak out for the things that our money is doing to other people. The IDF is bankrolled by the U.S, to the tune of 5.2 billion a year (coupled with arms deals and credit deals) although the national GDP of Israel is comparable to many semi-periphery nations.

WeeZie said...

And things certainly look on the upside in Sudan. Sudan, which has been accused of hindering aid to Darfur, signed an agreement with the United Nations this week to boost humanitarian work in the region.

The Saudi foreign minister said today that "Sudan has now agreed for the U.N. to provide logistical support to help African forces,"

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