The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has come out with a statement expressing "deep concern" over China’s human rights record, and among the first to fawn their admiration for this bold move is a Swiss NGO called the ‘International Service for Human Rights’ (“ISHR”).
What neither of them want to address, however, is that only two weeks ago, OHCHR was vehemently denying any having done anything wrong in handing over the names of Chinese human rights activists to the Chinese government or the possibility that this may have been a factor in the arrest and subzequent death in custody of a prominent human rights lawyer called Cao Shunli who subsequently died after five months maltreatment in police custody.
Moreover, ISHR even came out in support of the UN’s denials on that.
The evidence of this allegation was found in documents that were leaked to me, and which related to the UN Ethics Office refusal to protect a UN staff member from retaliation after she reported what she believed to be misconduct in the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (“OHCHR”).
The UN lurches from one embarrassing scandal to the next with monotomous regularity, and never learning anything from the experience, but what was amusing about this one was that part of it is the untold part of the last OHCHR scandal, when High Commissioner Zeid was so anxious to persecute one of his own senior staff that he failed to appreciate that stopping the sexual abuse of children was actually important.
The Anders Kompass case resulted in a firestorm of perfectly foreseeable public condemnation – but the concept of “leadership” in the UN does not involve taking action to avoid or even minimise small problems flaring into a major crisis.
These latest documents show how Emma Reilly, a UN Human Rights Officer had reported how her boss, a senior OHCHR official by the name of Eric Tistounet accepted “benefits” from the Morroccan Ambassador.
That is an odd co-incidence because Anders Kompass, were previously investigated (and cleared) for leaking UN information on the Western Sahara to the same Moroccan Ambassador - but nobody was interested in hearing about Tistounet.
Instead, Zeid was only concerned with getting rid of Kompass.
Now we know that for three years, Emma Reilly had been reporting Tistounet for having accepted an advantage from the same Moroccan ambassador, and she was repeatedly ignored.
Now it appears that Zeid is equally anxious to be rid of Emma Reilly.
Far from upholding human rights and the rule of law, OHCHR has clearly lost sight of what they are supposed to be doing.
Having failed to understand the need for evidence before dismissing someone for “leaking confidential information”, they were not even mildly interested in finding out who leaked it; the only objective was to be rid of Kompass. They failed to understand that accepting favours is a euphemism for taking a bribe, and from there it is a short step to “leaking confidential information.”
Having failed to understand that the ongoing sexual abuse of children is criminal and not to be tolerated, OHCHR may have reached a new low by handing over names of human rights activists to the Chinese government.
That may have resulted in many of them being detained and prevented from attending the meetings in Geneve where they might “complicate” China getting a seat on the Human Rights Council – so if Cao Shunli’s disappearrance avoided any unpleasantness being raised to embarrass China, that was not something that OHCHR wanted to draw attention to.
How this represents “the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity” is not apparent to the casual observer.
When the leaked documents were reported in the press, OHCHR of course denied any wrongdoing, and far from being outraged, ISHR – who had invited Cao Shunli to Geneva – was strangely supportive of the UN’s cover-up.
To the outside observer, that makes little sense, but ISHR is governed by a Board of Directors, and on that board is one Ms. Navi Pillay - who was Zeid’s predecessor as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Emma Reilly documents now allude to a witness statement that confirms Navi Pillay was told as early as February or March 2013, that the Moroccan Ambassador had paid for Tistounet’s book launch.
That was eighteen months before Kompass was investigated for allegedly leaking confidential information to that same Moroccan Ambassador.
Pillay left that post in 2014, so she was long gone by the time the Kompass case hit the newspapers, but the Code Blue Campaign leaked documents show that Zeid tried to fire Kompass over the child sex abuse report because he had been unable to do so over the Western Sahara leaks.
Did Pillay pick up the phone and speak to someone to remind them of Tistounet’s relationship with the Moroccans? Of course, she may claim not to have known or not to remember – and whether she did or not is difficult to prove. It is even harder if nobody even tries.
Where ISHR has a dilemma, of course, does not relate to leaking information to the Moroccans; it is the suggestion that OHCHR was complicit in facilitating the arbitrary detention of a number of Chinese human rights activists.
ISHR is supposed to support the work of human rights defenders – but on this occasion they could notspeak out without embarrassing one of their own directors.
Their credibility and indeed their ‘business model’ - depends on being accredited by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, so no one is left to speak out for the human rights lawyer who death can be attributed to having spent her life trying to stand up for the Human Rights of others.
The human rights industry is every bit as incestuous, and is motivated by the same venal self-interest, as the UN itself.
Something is clearly very wrong in OHCHR. Staff are subject to punitive investigations, others suffer retaliation for trying to report corruption, and are condemned trying to protect the human rights of others – and the UN Ethics Office is desperate to deny that Emma Reilly had grounds to complain about anything.
Zeid is now presenting himself as the strong defender of human rights who stands up to China – while his office has harassed and persecuted Emma Reilly for having had the foresight to see the risk here and the audacity to report what she believed was misconduct – as the UN Staff Rules compel her to do.
The whole idea of Human Rights is to protect the individual from abuses of government power, but UN staff members like Ms. Reilly are subject to a regime whereby the UN makes the rules, interprets those rules, controls the legal mechanisms for challenging those rules, appoints the judges to decide on the applicability of those rules, and has discretion as to whether or not staff even have grounds to complain about breaches of those rules.
UN staff members simply do not have the same basic legal protections as are available to the rest of the civilised world; such as access to a justice system that is independent as opposed to one bought and paid for by their employer
What they have instead, however, is a system Josef Stalin would have been very happy with.
The UN may lead the cheering for the High Commissioner now feigning concern for the human rights situation in China, but they would not permit a minute’s silence to honor the sacrifice made by Cao Shunli, and they are treating Emma Reilly with the same contempt.
The leaked Ethics Office memo in her case shows - once again - why the UN cannot be left to police itself. Self-regulation has been a spectacular failure, but the UN’s policy is simply one of constant denial and as long as the US government refuses to enact the legislation and withhold part of their contribution to the UN budget; those denials will simply continue.
If President Trump wants to do something about the UN; he can start by ensuring that the Organisation abides by it’s own rules, and the laws that apply to the rest of humanity – and to do that, the investigation of fraud and other illegality has to be handed over to a totally independent body.
To put the staff of the UN above the law is a perversion of the legal system, and to deny UN staff like Emma Reilly the protections that the law is supposed to provide them is an abuse of the Rule of Law.
That the US Government should tolerate this in New York is an insult to the Constitition and everything that the United States stands for.