Human Rights Day 2009 - little to celebrate

Human Rights Day 2009 -

north korea defectors guantanamo (photo credit: AP)
north korea defectors guantanamo
(photo credit: AP)
December 10 is known as International Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Conventions. But in 2009, as in past years, there is little to celebrate - this has been another bad year for human rights. In Darfur, the Congo and elsewhere in Africa, mass killings continue, with only minor and sporadic attention from the media or the United Nations. In Iran, a rigged election brought thousands of democracy protestors into the streets, where they were beaten and arrested (70 demonstrators, including Neda Agha-Soltan, were reportedly killed), followed by Stalinist show-trials designed to intimidate these advocates. And in Asia, the tyrannical regimes in North Korea and Myanmar terrorize their citizens daily, with no end in sight. This bleak record highlights the abject failure of the international community to live up to its moral commitments. The United Nations Human Rights Council pursues a cynical agenda that uses the rhetoric of international law as a weapon in the political war targeting Israel. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), China, Russia and other chronic human rights abusers, constitute a majority on the UNHRC and appoint its officials. They have no interest in opening a discussion of Tibet, Chechnya, or the systematic oppression of women or minorities in Saudi Arabia. Israel is a convenient diversion, which explains the obsessive focus on claims of "war crimes" and "collective punishment," as well as the biased composition and activities of the Goldstone inquiry on the Gaza conflict. THE NON-GOVERNMENTAL human rights watchdogs that were created to offset the unethical behavior and biases of anti-democratic governments, have become accomplices. Superpowers like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), and similar groups work closely with and support the agendas of the UNHRC and other international frameworks. They joined officials from Arab countries in campaigning on behalf of the Goldstone Report. Instead of speaking truth to this blatant abuse of power, officials of these self-proclaimed human rights groups are part of the problem, and most journalists blindly follow their lead. The past year has seen even greater cooperation between the UN and NGOs in distorting human rights values beyond recognition. Human Rights Watch was caught raising funds from wealthy members of Saudi Arabia's elite. Instead of leading the campaign against the abuses imposed by the Wahhabi religious police, this "watchdog" hosted a member of the Shura council at a dinner which featured more Israel-bashing and sinister warnings of the power of the "pro-Israel lobby." And HRW's "senior military analyst" and author of numerous attacks on Israel was suspended, while questions were raised regarding his professional qualifications and credibility. In parallel, Amnesty International and other groups continue to warp human rights and international law into ideological platforms for fighting Western democracy and open societies. Like HRW, a highly disproportionate percentage of Amnesty's reports and campaigns focus on criticizing the United States and NATO countries for alleged infractions in Iraq and Afghanistan, while terrorists and their state supporters get relatively little attention. BUT IN 2009, there were also some signs that the "halo effect," which protects human rights frameworks from scrutiny and criticism, has begun to deteriorate. Robert Bernstein, the founder of HRW, published an op-ed in the New York Times in which he denounced his own organization for betraying its moral principles. Although HRW officials launched a campaign to discredit Bernstein and other critics, the charges are too serious to be ignored, and HRW will need an entirely new and unbiased leadership to restore its credibility. In addition, the April 2009 attempt to reproduce the catastrophic 2001 Durban NGO Forum - in which 1500 radical NGOs used a UN anti-racism conference to promote anti-Semitism - was defeated. Canada led the way, and this process highlighted the need to redesign the entire UN human rights structure. These are small but important steps in the right direction. The absurdity of human rights groups raising funds from wealthy Saudi leaders, and of a Libyan official chairing UN human rights sessions in which Iran, Darfur and China are erased, may finally be too great to ignore. The writer heads NGO Monitor and is a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University.