The Human Rights Council is a tragic joke
BY FRIDA GHITIS
We should honor BP for protecting the environment. While we're at it, we
can name Jack the Ripper to the Commission for the Protection of Women,
and make Philip Morris a special advisor on pulmonary health. This would
all make perfect sense if we followed the example of United Nations
Human Rights Council, one of the most astonishing organizations the
world has devised under the UN umbrella.
The Council operates as a parody of itself, as if it had been designed
by a team of comedians writing theater of the absurd. The reality,
however, is that the UNHRC is a disaster that requires some decisive
action by countries that truly value human rights, especially the US.
Today's UNHRC stands as one of the greatest obstacles impeding the
protection of human rights by the international community. The
organization makes a mockery of the suffering of the victims of
human-rights abuses, glorifying their tormentors and depriving victims
of a desperately needed protective voice. The obscenely dysfunctional
UNHRC has removed from the arsenal of civilization a critically needed
tool against regimes that brutalize their people. And now, adding to its
dazzling performance in the field of human rights, the Council is
working its magic against freedom of the press.
The question now is what does the Obama administration -- and the
world's democratic nations -- plan to do about this suppurating sore on
the body of the world's foremost international organization?
Where to begin to explain the outrages? Let's look at the Council's
Advisory Committee: The group is chaired by Halima Warzazi of Morocco,
whose history-making contribution to human rights came when Saddam
Hussein used poison gas against Iraq's Kurds in 1988. Warzazi proudly
blocked the U.N.'s move to condemn the massacre. The vice-chair of the
Committee is the always impressive Swiss diplomat Jean Ziegler, who
helped Libya's despot Moammar Qaddafi create the charmingly named
``al-Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights,'' and became its
Ziegler who, like the rest of the Council, is obsessed with Israel's
sins to the exclusion of any other problem on Earth, has shared the
Qaddafi prize honor with Fidel Castro, Louis Farrakhan, Hugo Chávez and
other luminaries of freedom. The latest ``expert adviser'' is
Nicaragua's Miguel D'Escoto Brockman, admirer of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and
defender of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president indicted by the
International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
The Council succeeded the disgraceful U.N. Commission on Human Rights in
2006. CHR was such an embarrassment that it had to be disbanded and
replaced. But the new effort is even more of a disaster.
The Council, where the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference
(OIC) effectively dominates the proceedings, now threatens freedom of
speech under the guise of protecting religion from defamation. The OIC
pushed through a resolution creating a watchdog to prevent perceived
slights in the media against religion, such as the cartoons of Mohammed
printed in Danish newspapers. U.N. Watch, which keeps an eye on the
United Nations to make sure it abides by its own principles, calls this
an attempt ``to turn an international shield for religious freedom into
a sword for state censorship.''
The Obama administration ended a Bush-era boycott of the UNHRC,
promising to use its presence on the Council to pressure the
organization to do its job. But that has not happened. According to U.N.
Watch's Hillel Neuer, since returning to the Council, the United States
has been a disappointment. U.S. participation is not wrong, Neuer
argues, ``if it fights vigorously and uses the council to put a
spotlight on abusers.'' But it has not done that. Instead, Washington
has used the Council as another venue for diplomatic engagement, a
policy that has yielded minimal benefits.
Packed with representatives of dictatorships, the UNHRC, says Neuer, is
little more than a ``mutual praise society.'' It has stopped monitoring
abuses in places like the Congo and Cuba. And, while Iran hangs people
in the street, Libya imprisons and tortures dissidents and massacres
continue unpunished in other corners of the world, the UNHRC spends
almost all of its time condemning Israel.
The U.N. Human Rights Council's behavior is so offensive that it might
qualify for that Qaddafi human-rights prize. It's time for the United
States to make its presence useful there or else lead democratic
countries out of the organization.