What a spectacle

At the UN’s Universal Periodic Review on Iran’s human rights record, the US’s Posner spoke for a grand total of 2 minutes.

February 16, 2010 22:12
3 minute read.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, Secretary General of the

Larijani iran 311. (photo credit: AP)


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The Obama administration revealed a major plank of its Iran plan this week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. While Iranian dissidents are dying on the streets, locked up in torture chambers or corralled into show trials, the president is desperate to seem to be doing something. What better venue for keeping up appearances than the UN? Hence, during a concoction called the “universal periodic review” (UPR), Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner gave a speech on Monday critical of various Iranian abominations – for a grand total of two minutes.

The UPR process is touted as the centerpiece of the operations of the Human Rights Council, the UN’s lead human rights body created over Bush administration objections in 2006. Posner did not use the occasion on the world stage to mention by name the American citizens now being held hostage in Iran or to demand their immediate release.

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The whole UPR spectacle is structured so as to focus on one country for three hours once every four years. The country under consideration is allotted one of those precious three hours. In Iran’s case, the delegation, headed by Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of the High Council of Human Rights, used the UN-provided opportunity to spend over an hour regaling the world about its glorious human rights record. The delegation included two women wearing heavy chadors who were permitted to exalt women’s rights in Iran, and a Christian brought in to applaud the situation of non-Muslims.

In addition, 54 states raced through their two-minute remarks, having time to do little else than line up pro and anti the regime’s behavior. The regime’s apologists had the last word – which was actually met by a round of applause.

Western states managed to list a few problems, like a criminal code which advocates stoning. On the other side, the likes of Sudan, China, Cuba, Syria and Zimbabwe spoke about Iran’s commitment to democracy. NGOs were not allowed to speak.

The UN secretariat from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights took great pains not to be perceived as taking sides, since apparently the Iranian human rights record was not sufficiently clear. They managed to ensure that there were exactly 27 states on either side of the debate over Iran’s human rights credentials.

Council President Alex Van Meeuwen of Belgium inserted himself into the proceedings only twice. The first came after Larijani referred to “Zionist terrorists.” Although the UN staff would have had the remarks in advance, only after the fact did Van Meeuwen announce that all statements should show respect. Then, without provocation, he made a similar statement following the two minutes of Israeli Ambassador to the UN Aharon Leshno-Yaar, who had merely called upon Iranian leaders to cease denying the Holocaust. The UN’s idea of even-handedness.

AFTER MONDAY, there are two more steps in the UPR process. An outline of Monday morning’s remarks will be prepared, including any recommendations made. Iran will then be given an opportunity to accept or reject such recommendations. And some months down the road a report containing a summary of the whole exercise will be adopted by the Human Rights Council. The council process will be carefully orchestrated to last one hour: 20 minutes’ speaking time for the country concerned, 20 minutes’ speaking time for states and 20 minutes speaking time for all NGOs.

After that, reports are immediately gaveled through, despite the fact that all human rights abusing states routinely reject all of the genuine recommendations.

Iran is not the slightest bit concerned that the council will translate Posner’s two minutes into anything that bites. The council has never adopted a resolution worried about human rights in Iran; it’s too busy condemning Israel more often than all the other 191 UN states combined. Back in 2002, the former commission eliminated the position of UN human rights investigator on Iran, and the chance of it reappearing as a consequence of these proceedings are zero.

So when the Obama administration touts its 120-second speech as evidence of its effort to get serious about Iran, or as an excuse for having joined the UN’s viciously anti-Israel Human Rights Council, be warned.

The writer is the director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust and a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute.

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