It has taken a while – since 1949, in fact, when novelist Eric Blair, better
known by his pseudonym George Orwell, wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four – but the
adjective which derives from his adopted name has become commonplace in the
“Orwellian” denotes a bizarre reality, manipulation of
Sound extreme? The sort of practice one might find only among
repressive regimes like Libya, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia, perhaps? In fact, it
happens quite comfortably within an allegedly reputable international
The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) was
established in 2006 after Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged that its
forerunner, the Human Rights Commission, was mired in partisan agendas, allowed
countries with appalling records to join and had lost direction. It was in dire
need of reformation, he assured us.
The cure has proved worse than the
disease, with nations such as Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe and North Korea – all of
which violate human rights as official policy – voted onto the HRC. Libya, where
abuse is commonplace, was elected to chair the organization while being
investigated for corruption.
The loser in this shameful state of affairs?
Human rights and human beings. The Iranian girls who can be forcibly married
from the age of nine. Saudi women, who cannot vote, drive, walk outdoors without
a male guardian or claim sexual abuse without four witnesses. The innocents of
Darfur, Harare and Beijing who suffer indignities with negligible hope of the
perpetrators being held to account. People who suffer homophobia, genital
mutilation, child slavery.
Recently Mohammed Merah murdered a rabbi,
three Jewish children and three French paratroopers, citing allegiance to al-Qaida ideology as his motivation. The viciousness of his actions – particularly
the chilling cruelty with which he pursued eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego and
grabbed her by the hair before shooting her three times – brought France to a
standstill and its presidential campaign to a halt.
And the HRC – the
world bastion of human rights? Did it find it within itself to denounce this
barbaric violation of the most fundamental of human rights – the right to life?
Or to pause, even fleetingly, to offer solace to the grieving families which had
been destroyed in an act so callous as to cry out for condemnation? It didn’t
happen. What did happen, hours later, was that the HRC mustered all due gravity
to pass five resolutions condemning Israel, establishing a mission to
investigate the “implications of settlements on the civil, political, economic,
social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people.”
one-sided resolution failed to mention terrorism, ongoing incitement by naming
schools after suicide bombers, or rockets targeting civilians. Passed 36-1, its
sponsors included Iran and Syria – the latter having slaughtered 10,000 of its
own citizens in recent months. As with the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war –
also a Human Rights Council “inquiry” – Israel was deemed guilty at the outset
by virtue of its terms of reference.
It is tragic that the world’s
putative parliament of nations is unable to mount even a semblance of
protecting, let alone advancing, human rights. Membership of the HRC is
determined by distributing seats among five regional groups, the Africans and
Asians compromising the majority. Members of the Organization of the Islamic
Conference are the majority within the African and Asian groups, giving them the
balance of power, with Israel the only one of the 193 UN members excluded from a
Given these numbers, it is no coincidence that the HRC has passed
more resolutions against Israel than against all other 192 members combined, has
a permanent agenda item which criticizes Israel and has commissioned 30 reports
condemning it, compared with five on Syria, three on Iran and none on Saudi
Arabia, China or the genocidal charter of Hamas – whose envoy, Ismail al-Ashqar,
was welcomed by the HRC in Geneva last month.
It is a sorry commentary on
some of the world’s democracies – even if they comprise a minority at the UN –
that they seemingly allow vested interests to get in the way of righting a moral
inversion and an egregious wrong.