Canada the brave

For what possible principle or gain do free nations allow their values to be so brazenly trampled?

UN building 88 (photo credit: )
UN building 88
(photo credit: )
If it were not so sad, it would be laughable. With great fanfare, the supposedly reformed UN Human Rights Council just finished its first year of operation, a year in which its structure and agenda was to be determined. The new council replaced its predecessor, the discredited UN Human Rights Commission, infamous for being chaired by such lights as Libya, and for singling out Israel for abuse. So how does the new council conclude this pivotal year? By removing two known human rights abusers, Cuba and Belarus, from its roster of "special mandates," and by enshrining Israel as the only country in the world to receive permanent scrutiny. The council had inherited nine such "special mandates," regarding countries like North Korea, Cambodia, and Sudan - and of course, Israel. Cuba hailed the decision. Indeed, it was quite a feat to obtain such a stamp of approval from the UN's premier human rights body, given that this month, UN rights envoy Christine Chanet expressed "deep concern" over the health of some 60 Cuban dissidents jailed in a crackdown four years ago, adding that their plight represents the tip of the iceberg of human rights violations in Cuba. Castro and other tyrants can rest easy now that the UN is back to what it knows best, going after Israel. Not only is the council's mandate regarding Israel the only one that is not subject to periodic review, but it is unique in other ways. The other mandates all concern the "situation" in each place, leaving the council free to consider and criticize both sides of a conflict. In Israel's case, the council mandated itself only to consider Israeli actions, and not those of Palestinians, thereby rendering the whole exercise biased by definition. Further, only Israel is convicted in advance, since the mandate concerns Israeli "violations," rather than entertaining the possibility that Israel is acting according to its legitimate rights and responsibilities. Alejandro Wolff, deputy US permanent representative at the United Nations, summed up the situation by accusing the council of "a pathological obsession with Israel." "I think the record is starting to speak for itself," he told journalists. This is certainly true, but the question remains who is to blame for this mess and what can be done about it. The answer lies in two small flashes of moral courage that should be recognized and built upon. The first is the laudable pluck of Canada, the single nation that fought to the end against the outrageous "consensus" that was reached. First Canada opposed the package deal that included the singling out of Israel and the rewarding of Cuba and Belarus. The council chair ignored this, moving the item forward as if consensus had been reached. Next, Canada, unbowed, called a point of order against the chairman's action, forcing a vote. Finally, the council voted 46 to 1 (Canada), in effect retroactively and falsely deciding that consensus had been reached and blatantly violating, as Canada's ambassador put it, "more than 60 years of established practice of the UN, which is based on the fundamental principle of equality of all of its member states." We can only hope that all who care about human rights and the integrity of the international system, for that matter, come to Canada's defense. To their shame, democracies such as Germany, the UK, France, the Czech Republic, Poland and Japan were among the 46 nations who did not. Some of them, such as Germany and the UK, explained themselves by criticizing the singling out of Israel, while claiming amorphous "achievements" that are, like the promise of the council itself, unlikely to pan out. Indeed, the skewering of Israel was done in violation of express commitments made in similar package deals that led to the council's formation. The other ray of light was the criticism of the council's action by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who accused the council of "picking on Israel." A statement said further that he was "disappointed at the council's decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world." Once again, a band of dictators has hijacked the UN body that is supposed to stand up for the defenseless the world over. They are using Israel as their flak jacket, and in the process making a mockery of the concept of human rights and the institutions that free nations created and supposedly hold dear. For what possible principle or gain do free nations allow their values to be so brazenly trampled? Why didn't these nations, as was threatened along the way, simply walk out? Why, when Canada had the temerity to object, did they, in former UN ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan's timeless phrase, "join the jackals?"