Human Rights Day nothing to celebrate

Ignoring most of the victims around the world, the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva continues to be controlled by some of the worst violators.

By GERALD M. STEINBERG
December 6, 2018 18:57
3 minute read.
NO ONE did anything to stop the carnage in Syria.

NO ONE did anything to stop the carnage in Syria. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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International Human Rights Day – commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Conventions on December 10, 1948 – is marked every year in the United Nations and by other organizations claiming to carry out its noble principles. But in stark contrast to the self-congratulation and high-sounding rhetoric that characterize these events, the reality makes a particularly desolate picture.

If anything, this day is a timely reminder of the failures of the institutions that were created after the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust to protect and defend human rights. Indeed, 2018 was another dismal year, and there is little to celebrate. The massive government bureaucracies and millions provided to groups such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International did nothing to prevent the carnage in Syria that destroyed millions of lives. And the triumph of the Assad-Russia-Iran-Hezbollah coalition offers no hope for the future. In Venezuela, the tyranny of oppression and repression continues, and hopes that after the death of Hugo Chavez the situation would improve have been dashed.

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Ignoring most of the victims around the world, the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva continues to be controlled by some of the worst violators, including Cuba, Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia (a major offender long before the murder of Jamal Khashoggi), Egypt and China. The member-states and UN officials they appoint routinely exploit the rhetoric of international law to deflect attention from their own behavior, and obsessively target Israel. Syrian and Iranian diplomats take the floor to make poisonous accusations against Israel, while their governments make genocidal threats that turn the 1948 declaration into a mockery.

This year, the council voted to again conduct a pseudo-investigation of Israel, this time over the claims of excessive force and war crimes during the Hamas-orchestrated violent “Grand Return March” incidents along the Gaza border with Israel. Like the infamous (and eventually discredited) Goldstone Report published in 2009, the one-sided results of this version were decided before the commission members were named. For these reasons and more, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley declared “the Human Rights Council is the United Nations’ greatest failure.” After all efforts to enact reforms were rejected, the US suspended its membership, further diminishing the council’s legitimacy.

ADDING TO the disaster, powerful non-governmental organizations claiming to promote human rights, including Amnesty and HRW, promote the agendas of the dictatorships they are ostensibly monitoring. At the UN meetings, these NGOs routinely take the floor to repeat unsupported claims and denounce democracies, with a particular relish for reinforcing the attacks against Israel.

After HRW sought funds from Saudi Arabia, referred to the Libyan dictator Ghaddafi as a “human rights reformer” and took a leading role in “turning Israel into a pariah state,” founder Robert Bernstein denounced his own organization. But nothing changed, and the same radical anti-Western and anti-Israel ideologues continue to lead HRW.


The plague of antisemitic attacks in 2018 from the extreme Right and Left that culminated in the massacre of worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue highlights another blatant failure of the human rights industry. The HRC has given the barest of lip service to attacks on Jews in Europe, North America and elsewhere, while a number of its member-states are flagrant violators. Antisemitism is not on the agendas of the NGOs such as HRW and Amnesty that claim to act in the name of the 1948 Universal Declaration, and which, in a number of cases, contribute to this hatred.

Amid these bleak developments, it is difficult to find a basis for optimism as we are about to enter 2019. The best hope comes from increasing exposure of those responsible for these moral failures who exploit the language of human rights and international law in order to justify their own roles in promoting hate and discrimination.

In a number of parliaments and among responsible journalists, the officials responsible for making policy and providing funding ostensibly designated for human rights are being held to account, which is an important beginning. Denmark and the Netherlands, for example, recently adopted criteria for NGO funding that will end support for the groups that promote hate – including the boycott movement against Israel – and violence. In addition, a growing number of countries and institutions have accepted the definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA). If these trends continue, and go beyond empty declarations, perhaps by next year’s International Human Rights Day, enough will change to give us something to celebrate.

The writer is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of the Institute for NGO Research.

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