How Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi, a man wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, ended up on the UN Human Rights Council baffles Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky. In a new op-ed piece in the New York Times, Sharansky throws his support behind populist movements and against any sort of engagement with any dictatorial regime.

The Jewish Agency chairman wrote that it was a positive move that Syria's bid for a seat on the council had been removed and that Libya's membership was suspended, but questioned why the world has remained stayed largely silent on the "dictatorships that make up the council majority and brazenly sit in judgment on the human-rights record of others."

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In the run up to the council elections, Sharansky said such questions were now more urgent than ever.

"Something very important and very dramatic is happening in the Arab-Muslim Middle East. The peoples of the region are deciding to stop living in fear, and are risking life and limb to rid themselves of one seemingly immovable autocracy after another," he said.

He noted, however, that while people en masse in the Middle East are protesting for freedom, "the free world itself, led by the United States, has responded in classic realpolitik fashion, calibrating its response to each regime’s perceived chances for survival."

Sharansky said "silence and confusion have exacted a price. To the people in the streets, to the millions who have crossed their own line from fear to freedom, the signal has been sent that America is not with them, that the world’s beacon of freedom is indifferent to theirs."

He criticized those who have insisted that the US must choose between "engagement" and "disengagement" with dictatorial regimes, saying, "Engaging with a dictatorial regime and engaging with its people are two different things, and the same goes for disengagement.

"The United States engaged with and subsidized the dictatorship in Cairo, and America is cordially hated by Egyptians; the United States and the mullahs in Tehran could not be more disengaged, and America is loved by the Iranians."

Sharansky asked "What, indeed, must a dictator do to lose the respect of the international community, or to trigger action against him?" and called on the international community to start delegitimizing "evil regimes."

He said delegitimization doesn't mean sending troops, but rather "saying, not softly but loudly and in the clearest possible terms, that those who violate the human rights of their people cannot be our partners in building a world safe for human rights."

Turning to protesters on the streets, Sharansky wrote "To those millions crossing, or waiting to cross, the line into freedom, we can send a simple but thrilling message of support and solidarity: We are with you. No dictator is a legitimate representative of his people.

"'Human rights' are not a phrase to be cynically parroted by the world’s worst violators sitting on a grotesquely misnamed Human Rights Council, but a real and universal criterion of decency. We are with you."

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