Saturday, June 26, 2010

The UN Human Rights Council is a tragic joke

From The Miami Herald, 25 June 2010, BY FRIDA GHITIS:

We should honor BP for protecting the environment. While we're at it, we can name Jack the Ripper to the Commission for the Protection of Women, and make Philip Morris a special advisor on pulmonary health. This would all make perfect sense if we followed the example of United Nations Human Rights Council, one of the most astonishing organizations the world has devised under the UN umbrella.

The Council operates as a parody of itself, as if it had been designed by a team of comedians writing theater of the absurd. The reality, however, is that the UNHRC is a disaster that requires some decisive action by countries that truly value human rights, especially the US.

Today's UNHRC stands as one of the greatest obstacles impeding the protection of human rights by the international community. The organization makes a mockery of the suffering of the victims of human-rights abuses, glorifying their tormentors and depriving victims of a desperately needed protective voice. The obscenely dysfunctional UNHRC has removed from the arsenal of civilization a critically needed tool against regimes that brutalize their people. And now, adding to its dazzling performance in the field of human rights, the Council is working its magic against freedom of the press.

The question now is what does the Obama administration -- and the world's democratic nations -- plan to do about this suppurating sore on the body of the world's foremost international organization?

Where to begin to explain the outrages? Let's look at the Council's Advisory Committee: The group is chaired by Halima Warzazi of Morocco, whose history-making contribution to human rights came when Saddam Hussein used poison gas against Iraq's Kurds in 1988. Warzazi proudly blocked the U.N.'s move to condemn the massacre. The vice-chair of the Committee is the always impressive Swiss diplomat Jean Ziegler, who helped Libya's despot Moammar Qaddafi create the charmingly named ``al-Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights,'' and became its first winner.

Ziegler who, like the rest of the Council, is obsessed with Israel's sins to the exclusion of any other problem on Earth, has shared the Qaddafi prize honor with Fidel Castro, Louis Farrakhan, Hugo Chávez and other luminaries of freedom. The latest ``expert adviser'' is Nicaragua's Miguel D'Escoto Brockman, admirer of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and defender of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The Council succeeded the disgraceful U.N. Commission on Human Rights in 2006. CHR was such an embarrassment that it had to be disbanded and replaced. But the new effort is even more of a disaster.

The Council, where the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) effectively dominates the proceedings, now threatens freedom of speech under the guise of protecting religion from defamation. The OIC pushed through a resolution creating a watchdog to prevent perceived slights in the media against religion, such as the cartoons of Mohammed printed in Danish newspapers. U.N. Watch, which keeps an eye on the United Nations to make sure it abides by its own principles, calls this an attempt ``to turn an international shield for religious freedom into a sword for state censorship.''

The Obama administration ended a Bush-era boycott of the UNHRC, promising to use its presence on the Council to pressure the organization to do its job. But that has not happened. According to U.N. Watch's Hillel Neuer, since returning to the Council, the United States has been a disappointment. U.S. participation is not wrong, Neuer argues, ``if it fights vigorously and uses the council to put a spotlight on abusers.'' But it has not done that. Instead, Washington has used the Council as another venue for diplomatic engagement, a policy that has yielded minimal benefits.

Packed with representatives of dictatorships, the UNHRC, says Neuer, is little more than a ``mutual praise society.'' It has stopped monitoring abuses in places like the Congo and Cuba. And, while Iran hangs people in the street, Libya imprisons and tortures dissidents and massacres continue unpunished in other corners of the world, the UNHRC spends almost all of its time condemning Israel.

The U.N. Human Rights Council's behavior is so offensive that it might qualify for that Qaddafi human-rights prize. It's time for the United States to make its presence useful there or else lead democratic countries out of the organization.

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