Commentary and Newsletters

Anne Bayefsky

U.S. Joins "Human Rights" Council Travesty

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in The Washington Times.

The United Nations General Assembly elected the members of its lead human rights body, the Human Rights Council, Tuesday in New York and among them are some of the world's worst human rights abusers.

Now in a position to give the rest of us advice on protecting human rights are Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba and Russia. In a slap in the face to President Obama, the United States was elected with fewer votes than either Belgium or Norway, the only two other states running for the three Western slots. Even a country like Kyrgyzstan received more votes than the United States.

A special mockery of the process resulted from this year's election of Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan. The U.N. resolution that created the council, and abolished the discredited commission before it, was hailed as an achievement because it was said to require pledges from candidates to protect human rights. Candidates Saudi Arabia and Kyrgyzstan had no difficulty getting elected though neither had bothered to make any pledge at all, let alone making promises they had no intention of keeping.

Electability as a U.N. human rights authority, however, has little to do with caring about human rights. The Chinese circulated a pledge reading: "The Chinese government is committed to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Chinese people and has worked unremittingly toward this goal." That would be news to the billion Chinese subject to arrest for typing "human rights" into an Internet search.

And China is not alone - Tuesday's election also means a majority of council members are not fully free democracies (on the Freedom House scale).

The election also solidified the chokehold of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on the United Nations' human rights agency. The OIC managed to defeat Kenya, a non-Islamic but major African state. This enabled the OIC to retain a majority of the council seats allotted to the African regional group. The OIC also maintained a majority of the seats allotted to the Asian group. Since the Africans and Asians together hold an absolute majority on the council, Islamic countries hold the balance of power.

The OIC stranglehold on what the United Nations considers "human rights" has meant the council has been fixated on condemning Israel and removing Islamic and other human rights violators from their agenda. In its short three-year history the council has adopted more resolutions and decisions condemning the state of Israel than all other 191 U.N. member states combined. At the same time, it has abolished human rights investigations into the abysmal human rights conditions in Belarus, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Into this human rights farce now strolls the United States.

Following the election, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice could hardly contain her glee. She told reporters the United States was there to change things - that old "join now and reform some time in the future" line. It is hard to understand why Ms. Rice and Mr. Obama can't just do the math. Of a total of 47 seats, there will be one U.S. vote and 26 votes controlled by the Islamic group; there are just seven Western votes altogether. The United States is either going to lose big or it is going to join "consensus" on human rights abominations because news of losing too often might find its way back to American taxpayers - who foot 22 percent of the bill.

On Tuesday, the United States became part of the problem and not the solution. By being elected to pretend to protect human rights along with the likes of China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia, the United States gave the election and the council a stamp of approval it didn't deserve. Promoting the tool of human rights abusers promotes human rights abuse - now courtesy of the president of the United States.