As the United Nations today marks Human Rights Day, celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world body needs to answer serious questions over its apparent use of a political litmus test to favor pro-Palestinian job applicants.
A generation ago in the American South, U.S. President Barack Obama would have been barred from the best law, teaching and government jobs, due to the racist laws of segregation and the color of his skin.
Today, Barack Obama would be barred from a job at the United Nations human rights office, due to an apparently discriminatory hiring exam that screens applicants who differ from the office’s anti-Israel narrative.
Anyone who, like Obama, has vocally opposed efforts to isolate and delegitimize Israel at the United Nations, would be unable to complete this exam in good faith.
According to a document obtained exclusively by UN Watch, certain applicants for employment within the 1,000-strong U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)—the civil service for the 47-nation Human Rights Council—were required to complete a test that presumes unquestioned support for Palestinian claims of Israeli criminality at the UN.
The exercise opens with a fact scenario. Three investigators of the U.N. Human Rights Council—the monitors on adequate housing, water and sanitation, and on the right to food—have been sending allegation letters to Israel “raising concerns about the demolition of houses, water tanks and agricultural structures in the West Bank.”
The test stipulates that unspecified “NGOs and UN actors”—the latter could be anyone from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to murderous UN member states like Syria or its backer, the Islamic Republic of Iran—are now “encouraging” the three experts to issue a press release on the subject.
Meanwhile, “the Palestinian request for recognition of statehood is being discussed at the Security Council and General Assembly.”
The facts established, the applicant is instructed to draft an OHCHR memo advising the three experts on the pros and cons of issuing such a press release, and of its timing. Alternatively, applicants could draft talking points for the experts to use in media interviews on their allegations against Israel.
Second, the applicant is obliged to draft a 1,500-word “concept note” for organizing a public event at U.N. headquarters in New York to promote the topic of Israeli human rights violations.
The applicant must further elaborate on his or her concept for the program, format, speakers, audience, and steps needed, all of which could be shared with “States that may wish to sponsor such an event.” Syria? Iran? Sweden?
This UN job test is highly problematic on two levels.
First, the exercise clearly favors candidates who support holding one-sided events that focus on allegations against Israel while ignoring massive human rights abuses by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Authority.
Second, the exam, which obviously reflects the real-life working methods of the OHCHR, reveals a level of professional complicity in the bias of the UN’s political bodies that was not hitherto documented.
On numerous occasions, when UN Watch has complained to the UN about the actions of problematic investigators of the Human Rights Council, the response has been to disclaim and deny any responsibility for the so-called independent experts.
In October 2011, for example, UN Watch complained to Ban Ki-moon about the Special Rapporteur on Food, Olivier de Schutter, whose political campaign against Israel included, without any connection to his mandate, a pre-emptive attack on the Palmer Commission, which produced a rare UN report endorsing Israel’s view of the flotilla incident as well as the legality of the blockade to stop Hamas’ import of missiles.
In response, the top UN bureaucrat insisted to us that mandate-holders like Schutter “enjoy an independent status, which is crucial for them to fulfill their functions in all impartiality, free from any extraneous influence… from any party.”
In reality, however, we now see that UN rapporteurs are sensitive to the demands of UN member states, and of NGOs; and that the professional staffers in Geneva, who are meant to be objective and neutral, are intricately involved in some of the anti-Israel machinations by the rapporteurs.
Similarly, when in that same year we complained to Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, about an anti-Semitic cartoon published by Richard Falk, the council’s permanent investigator on Israeli violations, we received the same disclaimer of responsibility. Yet Pillay’s office may be more involved with Falk than previously thought.
The UN Charter requires (Article 101) that the paramount consideration in the employment of staff be “the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence, and integrity.” Choosing applicants based on their political views, therefore, is completely illegal.
How many applicants were given this exam, which appears to be a political litmus test with a partisan agenda, is unknown.
How common is it for OHCHR applications to include writing exercises with scenarios involving real-life country-specific situations?
For example, have such exercises ever featured scenarios addressing the specific human rights situations of China, Cuba, Congo (DRC), Egypt, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan or Zimbabwe? Can the UN provide samples of such country-specific writing exercises?
I posed these questions to the Office of the High Commissioner.
In an email response Monday, OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville told me that it was “quite possible that some of the countries you mention have been used for tests” — but also “quite impossible to find out which ones have been used when, or by whom, or for what specific purpose, given that hundreds of such tests have taken place all across the world for a wide range of jobs on a wide range of issues and situations in the 20 years since OHCHR was created.”
Is it really “quite possible” that the UN produced an exam contemplating UN action on human right abuses concerning Tibet, Chechnya, and Cuba’s political prisoners? I will believe it when I see it.
According to the OHCHR, the tests “are of no importance per se, but only for what they reveal about a particular candidate’s capabilities.”
Sadly, we fear these tests may reveal far more.