UNHRC wolf cartoon 311(do not publish again).
(photo credit: AVI KATZ)
QUESTION: WHAT DO LIBYA, EGYPT, BAHRAIN, Tunisia and Algeria have in common? The
obvious answer is that all five of these Arab states have had to deal with
widespread unrest and rebellion this year, and all have used brutal force to
crack down on their own anti-government civilian protesters.
something else they share in common: At some point during the last five years –
and as recently as this year – each of these authoritarian Arab governments has
sat on the highest international body responsible for the monitoring of global
human rights norms – the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the body
that gave South African judge Richard Goldstone the mandate for his
controversial report on the 2008-9 Gaza War.
In Libya’s case, the
government’s brazenly murderous campaign against its own citizens, which began
well before the civilian uprising became a full-fledged insurrection, finally
forced the UN to take action. On March 1, the UN General Assembly voted
unanimously to suspend Libya’s membership in the UNHRC. Yet, even with this
unprecedented move, one would be hard pressed not to conclude that the
international community itself bears partial responsibility for the atrocities
that have been committed by the regime of Muammar Gaddafi against the Libyan
In May last year, 155 out of 192 UN member states voted to
empower Libya to sit in judgment of other countries on human rights. They
did it with the full knowledge that despotic regimes such as Gaddafi’s seek
membership on the UNHRC precisely to evade scrutiny and censure. Incredibly, not
a single Western state raised its voice in protest against Libya’s candidacy or
Still, when it comes to the UN and human rights, Libya’s
election to the UNHRC could hardly be considered the most glaring case of
hypocrisy. In 2004, for example, the genocidal Sudanese regime of Omar al-Bashir
was re-elected as a member in good standing of the UN Commission on Human
Rights, the predecessor of the current council. Two years earlier, Libya,
abysmal human rights record and all, was elected to chair the commission by a
vote of 33 to 3.
Are we now to applaud Libya’s suspension from the UNHRC?
It should never have come to this point. It wasn’t until the CNN and Al Jazeera
TV networks began broadcasting graphic, bloody images of Gaddafi’s forces
systematically slaughtering Libyan civilians that the UN finally saw fit to
remove the fox that it had foolishly entrusted to guard the hen
But what did we expect, after all, from a UN body that resembles
more a rogues’ gallery of the world’s most repressive regimes than a human
rights monitor? One need only look at the makeup of the current UNHRC even
without Libya. Sitting on the council are such beacons of human rights as
Bahrain, China, Cuba, Nigeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
according to Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, half of the
current members – 23 out of 46 – fail to meet basic standards of democracy. And
if that’s not absurd enough, Iran, an Islamic theocracy and major sponsor of
terrorism that has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, is vying for a
seat on the council in the upcoming May election. So is Syria, a virtual
police state whose security forces are now also brutally crushing
For years, Israel, which won’t be elected to serve on the UNHRC
anytime soon, has repeatedly complained that the council singles out the Jewish
state for condemnation while ignoring truly egregious human rights violations
elsewhere. Since 2006, 70 percent of the council resolutions censuring specific
countries have focused on Israel, whereas no action has ever been taken on
China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia or Syria.
Although the US, Canada, two former
UN secretaries-general and even Goldstone himself have expressed deep concerns
about this blatant discriminatory treatment, no changes to this inherently
corrupt dynamic have been forthcoming. The absence of appropriate membership
standards means that even countries with appalling human rights records will
continue to win seats on the council for the foreseeable future.
the upside-down moral universe of the UNHRC, the Middle East’s only democracy is
subjected to an endless drumbeat of indictment and demonization, fueling the
global movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel. In the meantime, the world’s
worst human rights abusers continue to commit unspeakable atrocities with
impunity, making a mockery of the council’s mission.
from the UNHRC may have been a positive step, but if it doesn’t spawn genuine
reform, it will prove to be largely meaningless. If the UN persists in treating
autocratic governments the same way as democratic states, it will ensure that
the global human rights agenda will be perpetually manipulated and
The United States, therefore, should work to bypass – if not
abolish altogether – the UNHRC and champion the creation of an alliance of
democracies to monitor and safeguard human rights, prevent genocide and promote
human dignity. Put simply, serious human rights issues must be left to the
collective moral judgment of states committed to freedom of speech, freedom of
religion, freedom of association and due process.
For the cause of human
rights in the years ahead, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Robert Horenstein is
Community Relations Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland,