The credibility of the flagship of UN "reform," the newly-created Human Rights Council, sunk during its very first session, which ended on Friday, June 30th. The deck chairs on the Titanic had been rearranged when the Council replaced the discredited Human Rights Commission.
Serial human rights abusers were elected members right from the start. Nevertheless, the Bush administration's decision to vote against the Council, along with Israel and only two other states, was widely condemned as a sign of American disdain for multilateralism, disinterest in the welfare of human rights protection, and a personal failure of American UN Ambassador John Bolton.
Dissenting voices in the State Department, such as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, tried to blunt American opposition by precipitous commitments "to support" the Council, "to fund it," and to run for a seat at the next election in 2007.
Support for the Council also came from Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth, who called it "an historic step towards enhanced human rights protection." Amnesty International proclaimed it "a victory." Rep. Tom Lantos "expressed outrage at the Bush Administration decisionâ€¦not seek a seat" on the Council, claiming it was "a clear improvement over the existing commission."
THE WIDESPREAD misrepresentation of the Council made its self-immolation in its first two weeks of operation even more striking. The Human Rights Council is the UN's lead human rights body, and examples of egregious human rights violations should not have been hard to find.
In Darfur, there are three quarters of a million people beyond humanitarian reach, 2.5 million people displaced by the violence, 385,000 people in immediate risk of starvation, and over two million dead in 22 years of violence and deprivation.
But it wasn't genocide in Sudan that interested the Human Rights Council. Nor was it a billion Chinese without civil and political rights. Not 13 million women in Saudi Arabia whose lives depend on hiding from sight in public places and never being caught behind the wheel of an automobile.
Not the dire human rights conditions of 23 million people in North Korea. Not Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's incitement to genocide or his country's legal system, which includes crucifixion, stoning and amputation.
NO, THERE was only one country singled out by the UN Human Rights Council, and that was Israel.
The Council decided that the program for the first session should focus discussion on five issues; the first one being the "human rights situation in the occupied Arab Territories, including Palestine." (The rest were "support for the Abuja Peace Agreement," and three thematic subjects.) The Council placed criticism of Israel permanently on the agenda of all future sessions. It gave only the special investigator on Israel what amounted to a permanent mandate. On its final day, the Council passed just one resolution condemning human rights violations by any of the 192 UN members, and directed it at Israel. When it was all over, the Council decided to hold its first special (emergency) session within the next few days - on Israel.
THE NUMBERS explain it all. There are 47 states on the Human Rights Council divided among five regional groups. 55% are from the African and Asian regional groups.
In the May election, the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) garnered a majority on both the African and Asian regional groups, thereby giving them the balance of power. Since no criterion exists for Council membership other than geography, countries like China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia were elected without difficulty. Furthermore, 32 of the 47 new Council members are from the so-called Group of 77, and when it comes to human rights, developing nations have proven themselves a highly effective protection racket.
The math similarly explains other results. There was a second Council resolution adopted by a vote on the defamation of religions. Its aim was to stifle free speech. The same minority that voted against the Israel resolution emerged in the minority a second time.
It is now clear that there are only 12 countries on the Council, or one-quarter of its members who are prepared to stand together as democracies. The resolution creating the Council redistributed seats from the Commission, decreasing the proportional representation of the Western group and increasing that of the Asian group. The consequence? The resolution on defamation of religions was adopted by the 2005 Commission by 58%; the Council resolution on this subject was adopted by 70%.
As Ambassador Bolton foresaw, US membership on the Council would not have made any difference to these outcomes. In fact, Bolton was not alone in expecting the worst. Even the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights decided in advance not to Web cast the proceedings beyond the diplomatic niceties of the session's first week.
In other Council "improvements," a decision by the Commission to hold a special session required a majority vote; at the Council, only one-third of the members are required. On Friday, 21 of 47 members asked for a special session on Israel, thereby meeting the lower Council threshold. In fact, the 17 Islamic members alone satisfy the new requirement.
At the Commission, over a 40-year period, 30% of the resolutions condemning human rights violations by specific states were directed at Israel. The Council is now batting 1.000. And given a behind-the-scenes deal not to have any country-specific resolutions at least in the first year of operation (with the exception of Israel), that figure is not likely to change any time soon.
PERHAPS ONE of the most insidious features of the UN world is the idea that the demonization of Israel is the reasonable price of doing business at the UN. Human Rights Watch, for example, expressed "concern" about the Israel-bashing, but concluded "the first session of the new UN Human Rights Council was largely successful in laying a foundation for its future work."
The spectacle of discrimination and double-standards applied to the Jewish state and unmistakably aimed at its delegitimization and destruction, however, may not strike Congressional leaders the same way. After all, 22% of the costs of the Human Rights Council and its special session to come are paid for by the American taxpayer.
Senators Norm Coleman and Tom Coburn have both indicated that withholding funds from US-UN dues is a live option, while Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has said explicitly that the US should not be funding the Council. The original mission of the UN was rooted in the legacy of the Holocaust, the shield of "never again," and the lance of human rights protection. We are witnesses to the hijacking of the Organization to serve the purveyors of bigotry and hate. Continuing support, financial or otherwise, for the travesty should no longer be an option.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, professor at Touro Law Center and editor of www.EYEontheUN.org
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