When President Bush told the United Nations General Assembly this week “the American people are disappointed by the failures of the Human Rights Council,” his words could not have been more timely or deserved. He pointed out “This body has been silent on repression by regimes from Havana to Caracas to Pyongyang and Tehran — while focusing its criticism excessively on Israel.” On Friday, the Council piled the dung heap higher. It wrapped up another session in Geneva by adopting two more resolutions against Israel and no resolutions critical of the human-rights record of any of the other 191 U.N. member states.
This brings the total of anti-Israel resolutions and decisions adopted by the “Human Rights” Council — in only the first 15 months of its operation — to 14. Another four very weak decisions and resolutions have been applied to Sudan. And the Council finally decided to hold a special session of the Council on Myanmar. So adding up the highly selective concerns of the U.N.’s lead human-rights agency: 74 percent of the Council’s moves against individual states have been directed at Israel, 21 percent at Sudan, 5 percent at Myanmar, and the rest of the world has been given a free pass.
European diplomats openly predict that within a year all U.N. special investigators dedicated to uncovering and reporting on human-rights violations in specific states will be abolished by the Council. These key mechanisms for human-rights protection were created with enormous difficulty over the past two decades.
The axe wielded by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was first used in June to terminate the human-rights investigations on Cuba and Belarus. Then came the dithering over Sudan. While genocide continues in Darfur, the Council couldn’t decide this week whether a Sudan investigator was worth keeping. The matter was deferred for another three months. All other such investigators are on the chopping block — all that is, but one. The only exception to the “rule” is the investigator assigned to Israel. The Council has extended the life of the Israel rapporteur until Council members deem the occupation to be over — notwithstanding that the controlling faction believe all of Israel to be occupied land. At the same time, there is no shortage of outbursts from the OIC railing against any other human rights investigator.
....There was a dandy resolution on the Durban II racism conference — the newest U.N. forum for anti-semites from around the world being planned for 2009. The resolution calls for the Libyan Chair of the Preparatory Committee to come to New York to present a report in person to the General Assembly. (Distributing the written report is not good enough.) The cost of the visit? $8,400 according to the Secretariat — for a 15-30 minute presentation. In case you were wondering, American taxpayers will pay 22 percent of those costs.
Then there were lots of resolutions on racism — all designed to bring hysterical accusations of Islamophobia and dastardly cartoons to the fore. In line with the sponsors’ genuine concern for religious discrimination, Pakistan objected to “Jewish holidays” being used as a pretext for violating the human rights of Palestinians. At the insistence of the OIC, a new clause has become de rigueur for the mandate of every investigator on every human rights subject, country-oriented or thematic. The provision imposes a code of conduct which threatens to seriously interfere with their independence.
My personal favorite was the Egyptian-led resolution, entitled “From rhetoric to reality: a global call for concrete action against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Adopted over the negative votes of all Western and Eastern European democracies, who are totally outnumbered in the Council, it decides that the future agenda of the Intergovernmental Working Group will focus on the following paramount issues…re-aligning the work and name of the Anti-Discrimination Unit in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights…and that, henceforth, this Unit shall be known as “The Anti-Racial Discrimination Unit,” and that its operational activities shall focus exclusively on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, as defined in…the Durban Declaration.
In other words, for anybody who has any idea of talking about anything but Islamophobia, you’re days are numbered.
In the meantime, the day-to-day camaraderie of the UN Human Rights Council proved a comfortable place to express the following sentiments:
- Egypt: “…the offensive publication of portraits of the Prophet Mohamed…has highlighted the damage that freedom of speech if left unchecked may lead to, not only hurting the religious feelings of more than a billion people, but also their freedom of religion and their right for respect of their religion.”
- Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC: “…terrorist acts carried out by non-state actors, in the name of religion, should be de-linked from religion to ensure freedom of religion for the peaceful followers of that faith.”
- Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC: “The international community must address the root causes of terrorism, such as the situations of grave injustice and repression involving Muslims, and conditions of poverty and lack of opportunity, which fuel extremism and terrorism.”
- Syria: “Freedom of opinion had been utilized to humiliate Islam and to cause hatred and instigate violence.” Bangladesh: “…freedom of expression…cannot be absolute nor infinite. It must be exercised with respect and responsibility…”
- Iran: “…the right to freedom of expression is not absolute.”
- Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC: “Islamophobia is also a crude form of anti-Semitism.”
- Algeria: “…there is an upswing in anti-Semitism that now targets Arabs… and Muslims.”
The story line is always the same: Arabs are the victims of anti-semitism, Jew-hatred is off the radar screen; a billion people have been gravely wounded by a few cartoons in a newspaper published some two-thirds the way to the North Pole; freedom of expression is legitimately curtailed for just about every imaginable offense — particularly in Islamic dictatorships; religion is irrelevant to understanding and preventing terrorism, despite the fact that terrorists terrorize in the name of religion; and terrorists are driven by poverty and lack of opportunity — in other words, our dead are our fault.
Alongside what passes at the U.N. for “human rights” protection, stands the eminently reasonable legislation that has come from both the House and the Senate calling for an end to American funding for the Human Rights Council. The House passed their version of the Department of State Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act on June 22 and included by unanimous agreement an amendment introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to refuse any funding for the Council. In the Senate version, proposed by Senator Norm Coleman and adopted unanimously on September 6, an exemption law was inserted by Senators Richard Lugar and Joe Biden. It would refuse funding for the fiscal year 2008 unless the President certifies either that providing the funds to the Council is in the national interest of the United States, or the U.S. is a member of the Council. Conference negotiations are underway, but some form of the restriction is expected to survive. As well it should. And when it does, it will be time for the president to translate his words on Tuesday into action.
Not only are we disappointed, we’re disgusted and we don’t want to pay another nickel.
Anne Bayefsky is senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. She also serves as the director of the, Touro Institute for Human Rights and the Holocaust and as the editor of EYEontheUN.org.