Overview of the UN Human Rights Council during a debate at the United Nations in Geneva.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Many of us here in Israel have long ago given up on the UN as an irredeemably distorted institution. If the 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution did not convince us, the insane obsession with castigating Israel has.
In no other UN institution is the cynicism and hypocrisy more pronounced than in the so-called Human Rights Council. Human rights luminaries such as China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Syria not only consistently escape censure, they are given special honors. The Jewish state, meanwhile, is regularly singled out for special condemnation.
For instance, the UNHRC’s agenda item 7 dictates that Israel’s purported human rights violations must be raised and discussed every single time the UNHRC convenes. Not only are more UNHRC condemnations made against Israel than any other single country in the world, more condemnations are made against Israel than against all other countries combined.
Therefore, no one here was particularly surprised when Saudi Arabia was appointed as a member of the UNHRC back in 2013 along with countries like China, Russia, Vietnam and Algeria.
This happened even though General Assembly Resolution 60/251 states that UNHRC members are countries that “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
Though it would have been nice to hear protest from representatives of the EU and the US among others, Israelis did not hold their breath.
As one foreign ministry official put it, “This is the planet, these are the rules and it is what it is.”
Now it emerges that Saudi Arabia -- a country led by a monarchy that holds thousands of political prisoners in jails for no other crime than expressing an opinion deemed to be illegitimate by the leadership; that uses torture and capital punishment flagrantly; that oppresses women – was awarded a special honor.
According to UNHRC documents obtained by Hillel Neuer’s UN Watch, Saudi Arabia was chosen to head a 5-member group of ambassadors, known as the Consultative Group, which has the power to select applicants from around the world for more than 77 positions dealing with country-specific and thematic human rights mandates.
A UN report dated September 17th reports that Faisal Trad, Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the UNHRC, was selected to chair the panel for appointments to be made in the current 30th session of the council, which opened this month and will last for another two weeks. The Saudi ambassador was first elected to the post ahead of the recent June 2015 session, yet Geneva diplomats chose to keep silent and that initial election went unreported -- until now thanks to Neuer.
US Ambassador Samantha Power and EU foreign minister Federica Mogherini should condemn the appointment of the Saudis and work to reverse it. But there is little chance of that happening.
In fact, Washington expressed its satisfaction with the Saudi appointment.
“We would welcome it. We’re close allies,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.
News that a representative from Saudi Arabia had been appointed to chair the Consultative Group comes at a time when the Saudis are making headlines for their brutal judicial system.
After over 700 were crushed to death and over 800 were wounded this week in Mecca during a Hajj pilgrimage for the Eid al-Adha holiday, the king ordered the execution of over a hundred individuals deemed to be responsible for the deaths.
The Saudis continue to keep the innocent blogger Raif Badawi in prison. He faces a flogging sentence of 1,000 which could easily result in his death.
The UN could have been a force for good in the world.
As an institution that brings together all the nations of the world, the potential is limitless. Wars could be prevented before they even begin; blatant human rights abuses could be addressed and stopped; genocides could be avoided; the damage resulting from famines and natural disasters could be ameliorated. And all this could be achieved through dialogue and cooperation.
But the UN has failed to come close to living up to its potential.
While some might harbor optimism that the UN can still be changed, many of us have long since abandoned hope.
Don’t expect too much from the UN and you won’t be disappointed.