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Don't Join an International Body That Promises More of the Same!

May 28, 2009 By:
Gregg J. Rickman
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On May 12, the United States won election to a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council. The only reason for joining such a morally bereft institution would be the fanciful hope of reforming it. Those with experience dealing with the council suggest differently, offering that we should expect outcomes not much different than that of the old U.N. Human Rights Commission that the council replaced. The countries, the issues and, in some cases, the diplomats are the same.

So how can we expect different policies, and how can we expect to change them? We should not dignify the Human Rights Council's twisted view of human rights by joining such a lost cause.

The council serves as a mockery of advocacy and adjudication. It is beset by a membership that comprises a core group of serial human-rights abusers and despotic regimes. And through rigid bloc voting, these members use their numerical superiority to extend their struggle with Israel to yet another venue.

Let's examine those we're joining on the council and how they behave.

In March 2007, the council passed a resolution on defamation of religion that denies free speech or criticism of religion because it will hurt the feelings of its adherents. By passing such an odious measure, the council shows what it thinks about human rights. I wonder, though, what the sponsors of this resolution feel about protecting criticism of Judaism in their countries, many times by their own government personnel. But protecting Judaism was not their goal.

The council that passed this resolution counts among its members the likes of Saudi Arabia, China and Cuba, which Freedom House just included in its "Worst of the Worst 2009" report on human rights. All three were considered "Not Free." According to Freedom House, of the 47 nations on the council, 22 are "free countries," 16 are "partly free countries" and nine are "not free countries." This means that more than half of the members of the council are at least only partly free, if not free countries at all.

The member states, through their majority status, stifle any possible show of independence by enforcing bloc voting, with the strongest among them dictating policy that runs clearly contrary to our core values, such as free speech.

A Democracy Coalition Project study says that current bloc politics at the council have led to negotiations among regional and cross-regional groups that are increasingly conducted behind closed doors and pursue consensual outcomes. In many cases, this has prevented states from speaking independently and clearly on serious human-rights concerns.

The same study also says that the Organization of Islamic Countries, with 15 members on the council during the 2007-08 cycle, "carried more weight than any of the single regional groupings." This bloc "frequently spoke and voted as a group, and was joined in its positions on many issues by the African Group, as well as Cuba and Nicaragua." The OIC, the study adds, "generally supported the African line on opposing country scrutiny with one major exception, the Occupied Palestinian Territory.' "

Indeed, these states use their stranglehold on the council to bypass very real abuses and even genocide around the world, preferring instead to castigate and stigmatize Israel.

Since its inception, the council has held 10 special sessions, five directed at Israel. This sounds frighteningly similar to the council's predecessor, the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Between 2001 and when it was disbanded in 2006, that commission passed 26 resolutions and one decision that were critical of Israel. The situations in North Korea, Burma and Sudan warranted a combined total of 11 resolutions and decisions during the same period.

Moreover, the Democracy Coalition Project study, in its 2007-08 report card on the council, said that the council "failed to effectively address several unfolding human-rights crises, such as Zimbabwe and Tibet, or speak forcefully on ongoing situations as urgent as Darfur."

Nothing has changed from one U.N. human-rights body to another.

Why, then, are we joining this broken institution? Leaving the council to wallow in its own hypocrisy without dignifying or legitimizing its Orwellian view of human rights is the best option.

Gregg J. Rickman served as the first U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism from 2006 to 2009.


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