The credibility of the flagship of U.N. “reform,” the newly created Human Rights Council, sunk during its very first session, which ended on Friday, June 30th. The deck chairs on the Titanic had been rearranged when the Council replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights. Serial human-rights abusers were elected members right from the start.
The Human Rights Council is now the U.N.’s lead human-rights body, and examples of egregious human-rights violations should not have been hard to find. In Darfur, there are three quarters of a million people beyond humanitarian reach, 2.5 million people displaced by the violence, 385,000 people in immediate risk of starvation, and over two million dead in 22 years of violence and deprivation. But it wasn’t genocide in Sudan that interested the Human Rights Council. Nor was it a billion Chinese without civil and political rights. Not 13 million women in Saudi Arabia whose lives depend on hiding from sight in public places and never being caught behind the wheel of an automobile. Not the dire human-rights conditions of 23 million people in North Korea. Not Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s incitement to genocide or his country’s legal system, which includes crucifixion, stoning and amputation.
No; there was only one country singled out by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and that was Israel.
The Council placed criticism of Israel permanently on the agenda of all future sessions. It gave only the special investigator on Israel what amounted to a permanent mandate. On its final day, the Council passed just one resolution condemning human-rights violations by any of the 192 U.N. members, and directed it at Israel. When it was all over, the Council decided to hold its first special (emergency) session within a few days — on Israel.
At the Commission (the dysfunctional former UN Human Rights body), over a 40-year period, 30 percent of the resolutions condemning human rights violations by specific states were directed at Israel. The Council is now batting 1.000. And given a behind-the-scenes deal not to have any country-specific resolutions at least in the first year of operation (with the exception of Israel), that figure is not likely to change any time soon.
From RadioFreeEurope :
RFE/RL: Mary Robinson, may I ask you about the Human Rights Council? This was a body meant to replace a predecessor that came under a lot of criticism for failing to address human rights abusers on the commission. But the council has just ended its session, and one group at least, Human Rights Watch, called it a huge disappointment, again failing to address some of the big human rights issues, such as Darfur. Do you share the view that it's a disappointment?Everyone with two neurons to fire consecutively could predict what would happen - what has happened. If Mary Robinson, former head of the Human Rights Council's predecessor "hoped that the Human Rights Council would act in a human rights way" with the current batch of dictatorships and tyrannies that compose the majority of the commission, it can't be lack of intellect. It requires wilful blindness.
Mary Robinson: Well, like Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty, and some of the other major human rights organizations, I did welcome the establishment of the Human Rights Council, and I felt that it had a real possibility of trying to break through sensitive political issues with a human rights leadership, which is never easy. The current president of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador [Luis Alfonso] de Alba of Mexico, is very committed, and it had a reasonably good start.
I think there were two things that worried me. One was when the war broke out in Lebanon, and you had the response of Israel, which is very questionable about being disproportionate, and raised issues of civilian casualties and displacement and destruction of property, and bridges, etc., which raises issues of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. But you also had Hizballah sending missiles into civilian populations in northern Israel.
I hoped that the Human Rights Council would act in a human rights way, and set up a commission of inquiry into both. Alas -- and this was a problem of the previous Human Rights Commission -- it only set up a commission of inquiry into what had happened in Israel, by the Israel forces. And that is not the human rights approach; that is the political approach. And if the Human Rights Council continues to taint human rights with the political approach, this time because of the Organization of the Islamic Conference countries.... They had the majority, they wanted to hit Israel, not do human rights work. How can you have a Human Rights Council that's not absolutely outraged by what's happening in Darfur?
So that's one very big problem. And then, I would very much agree with Human Rights Watch. How can you have a Human Rights Council that's not absolutely outraged by what's happening in Darfur? It's getting worse by the day. There are women being raped, there are children dying, there are populations being displaced, there's a militia that's being supported in a complicit way by a government, and the fact that they didn't bring it to our attention in a more urgent way, and have more urgent action.... The Security Council was also involved, but the Human Rights Council is the voice. "We the people" is the first three words of the charter.
But I still hope that the Human Rights Council will work well, because the United Nations needs leadership on human rights.
The same wilful blindness the world as a whole is showing about Dafur.
I blame Bush.
Or rather, I think the US political scene is partially to blame. The problem is that it was a Republican President who dared to liberate 50 million people, not a Democrat. For this, Bush can never be forgiven by the US Media, though of course a lot of the world's media is congenitally Anti-US no matter who is in power, simply because they distrust any nation or organisation that is too powerful. Much as many on the far right of the US distrust the UN, regardless of what it does.
As a result, the world as a whle has lost its idealism. From The Australian :
In Rwanda in 1994, pit latrines were favoured places for the disposal of bodies. When I was there two years after the genocide, people were retrieving the bodies from the pits and giving them church burials. In 100 days, not of tribal madness but of government-organised slaughter, Rwandan Hutus killed close to one million Rwandan Tutsis. Today in Rwanda it is considered bad form to talk of Tutsi and Hutu. All are simply Rwandans, which must give some cause for hope.
In Darfur, wells are a favoured means of disposing of bodies. This time two years ago I was in a refugee camp near the Chad-Sudan border, hearing stories of people who had fled the massacres in the Darfur region of Sudan. This conflict, now in its third year, was even then being described as "Rwanda in slow motion". Whether it is a genocide or, as the UN would describe it, merely "ethnic cleansing" is still being disputed.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir says the UN resolution for the deployment of peacekeepers is a "Zionist plot" to weaken the region and an insult to his country's sovereignty. He has threatened that his soldiers will fight any uninvited UN forces. He may be bluffing. But because so little pressure has been put on him until now, Bashir appears to believe he can get away with whatever he wants. (Incredibly, in 2004, while the massacres in Darfur had been under way for months, Sudan was elected to the then UN Human Rights Commission.)
The problem, of course, is Iraq.
What the world desperately needs, and hasn't got, is a strong, effective and united UN. That was lost over Iraq. What the world needs and hasn't got is a strong affirmation of the principle that governments do not have the right to brutalise and massacre their own people with impunity, simply by claiming national sovereignty. That was lost in Iraq, too. There was always a case for humanitarian intervention in Iraq, though it was clearly not the reason for the invasion (which I supported). What has been lost, in the tragedy that Iraq has become, is idealism.
It has become naive and stupid to believe that there is even such a thing as an international community, let alone one that can intervene to stop genocidal dictators, which Saddam Hussein certainly was when he was in power and Bashir gives every indication of wanting to be.
The mandate of the African Union troops has been extended to the end of this year. For all sorts of reasons it would be better if African forces could keep the peace in Darfur. But what Bashir needs to believe is something Saddam never believed: that if he can't or won't stop the killings, a stronger international force will come in and do it, with or without his consent. (Bashir is no Hussein and it is very likely he would crumble once his bluff was called.)
What we need to get back is the belief that, in the 21st century, in this age of globalisation, we owe protection to people in distant countries, even if we are not being threatened.
Unless we can get back some of that belief, some of that idealism, we are going to keep hearing about atrocities such as Darfur and are going to keep demanding something be done, without knowing or acknowledging what it is that has to be done.
The predecessor to the UN, the League of Nations, did nothing to stop WW II. But if anything, the current UN is even worse, and it's not getting better. Quite the contrary. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Fascist Spain, Japan and Stalin's Russia would now have seats on the Human Rights Commission if they were around today.
We need something like the UN, despite the ravings of the far right. But the current UN is unsalvageable, all attempts at reform have just made the situation worse. Time to mend it with a new 'un.