“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action.”
- Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, 12 March 2007, Opening of the 4th Human Rights Council Session
Late last week, The UN’s top human rights body appointed three independent experts to conduct a fact-finding mission on how Israel’s West Bank settlements affect Palestinians. The noble aim of this probe, according to UN Human Rights Council president, Uruguay Ambassador Laura Dupuy Lasserre, is to find out how the Israeli settlements impact “the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people.”
Israel summarily condemned the UNHRC, saying that it would not cooperate with the new panel, and that the panel’s members would not be allowed into Israel.
The issue on the table isn’t whether Israeli policy in the West Bank should be investigated and criticized since the Jewish state must be held to account for its treatment of its own citizens as well as all people who currently fall under its administrative and/or military jurisdiction.
However, to criticize Israel to the exclusion of other nations is inappropriate. In fact, it’s an egregious offense to the very concept of international human rights on which the UNHRC was established.
In 2007 the UNHRC’s alleged bias was codified when it voted in favor of making Israel the only country on earth to become a part the Council’s permanent agenda. The proposal was adopted by consensus.
How does this preoccupation with Israel serve the interests of the millions of people worldwide who are victims of human rights abuses?
It is worth nothing that the UN Human Rights Council is a relatively new body, having replaced the UN Commission for Human Rights in 2006. Since the UN Commission for Human Rights dedicated such disproportionate efforts to criticizing Israel – at the expense of other causes – it was dismantled.
At the time, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan explained the decision to do away with the UN Commission for Human Rights, saying that the body had “…cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.”
And how has the UNHRC lived up to its credo of “strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations …”? The 47-member council has turned the noble dream for justice envisioned by Eleanor Roosevelt and other drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into a lamentable farce.
Some of the countries on the Council that global monitors such as Human Rights Watch say have poor human rights records include China, Jordan, Libya, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Below, is but a sampling of these UNHRC members’ very bad recent behavior:
China: The Chinese Communist Party governs China as an authoritarian, one-party state. The Party sharply curbs freedom of expression, association, and religion. The Party also extensively censors the Internet and maintains highly repressive policies in the ethnic minority regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.
Jordan: The kingdom has barely advanced rights protections over the past decade. Expression and association remain tightly circumscribed in law and practice and security services enjoy a large degree of impunity for arbitrary arrests and torture, as do employers for widespread abuses against migrant domestic workers.
Libya: One of seven countries, including the Congo – another UNHRC member – recently included on the U.S. State Department’s new list of countries using child soldiers.
Russia: In 2011 Russian human rights defenders were harassed and its civil society worked in a hostile climate. No one has been held responsible for abuses, including the murders of activists in the North Caucasus.
Saudi Arabia: The government in 2011 banned public protests, tightened press laws, and arrested scores of peaceful rights advocates and protesters. Saudi Arabia struggles with a poorly defined and nontransparent justice system based on religion that metes out draconian sentences.
In order to salvage the United Nations and thus allow it to continue its important work in the areas of peace and security, social and economic development and humanitarian affairs, the United Nations Human Rights Commission will have to be drastically reformed – if not dismantled altogether.
Similar to the comprehensive code of conduct – social, political, economic and otherwise – that’s required of a country seeking admission to the European Union, strict standards for admission to the UNHRC must be developed and then enforced.
Without such indexes of economic, religious and political freedoms by which to measure a country’s suitability for admission on the Council, the UNHRC will remain open to charges of hypocrisy and bias – most notably against Israel.