Editorial, March 31, 2007
The UN's human rights charade
Once again, the newly minted United Nations Human Rights Council has proven itself to be just as cynical and useless as the UN Commission on Human Rights it replaced last year.
On Friday, the Council wrapped up its forth session since its inception. Despite evidence from its own investigators that the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan is being perpetrated by that country's dictatorial Islamist government, the Council was unable even to call the mass killings a genocide, much less pin blame on Khartoum. Muslim and African representatives would permit only an expression of "deep concern" for the murder of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of two million or more, and the systematic rape of women and girls.
The point of reconstituting the old commission as the new council a year ago was to prevent such shams. But the new body has been as wilfully blind as the one it superseded. The world would probably be better off if it were disbanded.
This unwillingness to "name names" is part of a new trend at the UN. Last fall, one of the General Assembly's six standing policy committees recommended an end to "name-and-shame" human-rights reports that single out particular countries for criticism. Human-rights experts within the organization recommended, instead, working quietly with abuser nations to convince them to end the murder, torture, maiming and political imprisonment of dissident citizens.
Some good that would do.
Too many UN member states already scoff at the body's rebukes. The UN has no standing army with which to protect human rights, and economic sanctions almost never work because some country or other will ignore them.
Such is the case with Sudan and its actions in Darfur.
China — itself one of the worst rights abusers in the world — has long protected Sudan from censure at the UN, and has continued to prop up the Khartoum regime with trade and aid.
Still, on a symbolic level, a shame the UN Human Rights Commission was not more forthright in its condemnations of Sudan. Two weeks ago, its own fact-finding mission ruled that Sudan's government "has manifestly failed to protect the population of Darfur from large-scale international crimes, and has itself orchestrated and participated in those crimes." Friday, the commission voted merely to "take note" of the report.
Many argue that there is nothing short of all-out military invasion that the West could do to stop the Darfur genocide. But since it is unlikely that any Western nation — including Canada — will devote a sizeable force to such an enterprise, other options should be explored.
The National Post is currently running a series of essays commissioned by STAND Canada (Students Taking Action Now: Darfur) outlining some of these options. In one instalment appearing in Thursdays's edition, for instance, former Liberal cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy and Allan Rock argued for increased name-and-shame diplomacy, the freezing of Khartoum's ruling generals' Western assets, as well as a protective force of at least 20,000 troops assembled in concert with the African Union. These are all ideas worth trying. And since the UN clearly isn't going to take the initiative in Sudan, the community of civilized nations should.
While we are on the subject, it is worth nothing that the UN's new prohibition on name-and-shame comes with certain notable exceptions. In the same month the commission refused to hear tales of mass rape in Sudan and Burma, the UN was accepting motions from Iran, China, Russia, Cuba and other abusers condemning the United States and Canada for their human rights records. Canada was also singled out for its official use of the term "visible minorities," which the UN declared an expression of racism.
Then there is Israel, which has been a subject of obsession at the United Nations since the Jewish State came into being six decades ago. As Hillel Neuer, executive director of the NGO United Nations Watch, told the 4th plenary session of the UN Human Rights Council on March 23, the Council has ignored crises all over the world — from Darfur to Zimbabwe to Central Asia to Arab-on-Arab killings in Gaza — all the while passing resolution after resolution against the Middle East's only true democracy.
It was a trenchant critique that went right to the core of the Council's failings. So how did the Council's President, Mexico's Luis Alfonso De Alba, respond? By shooting the messenger, of course. "For the first time in this session I will not express thanks for that statement," he huffed. "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 … 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."
His defensive outburst is a fitting symbol of what the Human Rights Council has become. Killing thousands in Darfur — that's not so bad. But having the guts to tell the Council what a joke it's become — well, that's truly unforgivable.
Hooray for Hillel Neuer:
UN Human Rights Council President Scolds UN Watch
Read and watch the video of Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch, as he addresses the Human Rights Council, at:
He stated, in part: "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 .
(see video above).