It is encouraging to know that the UN Human Rights Council has a “Special Rapporteur” to protect the right to freedom of expression. The duties of this office include the gathering of information relating to violations, and to “make recommendations and provide suggestions on ways and means to better promote and protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression in all its manifestations.”
The problem is, when it comes to the UN there is often a disconnect between purpose and action. If the UNHRC is so committed to protecting freedom of expression, why do current and recent members of the Council include such suppressors of civil liberty as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Cuba, Pakistan, and Venezuela?
I have previously blogged about the UNHRC’s peculiar obsession with Israel. That hasn’t improved, but the focus of today’s comments is the UN’s supposed commitment to rights of free expression.
I recently took a personal interest in this, because my own access to a UN Twitter feed was curiously “blocked” last week. I was following the account of the UN Relief and Works Agency (@unrwa), and after expressing my opinions in response to the agency’s posts denouncing the Gaza blockade I no longer have access to respond to, or even view, UNRWA’s comments to the viewing public.
UNRWA’s tweets underscore poverty, destitution, and power outages in Gaza, and call for an end to the blockade. The implication here is that Israel is the villain for an unwarranted blockade that is the cause of Gaza’s economic and social collapse.
Of course, Israel does not control Gaza’s border with Egypt. Moreover, Israel allows food and other civilian goods across its border into Gaza, but prohibits weapons and limits entrance of certain “dual use” materials including concrete (think terror tunnels).
Rather than simply denounce the blockade, UNRWA might also consider the reasons Israel (and Egypt) have restricted the crossing of people and certain materials into Gaza, and the underlying causes of the destitution that is underscored in UNRWA posts: that Hamas has had a stranglehold on the people of Gaza ever since Israel withdrew from the territory in 2005; that Hamas’ founding charter expressly promotes jihad and the obliteration of Israel; and that Hamas suppresses human rights and tortures its dissenters. It might also have mentioned the origins of the refugee crisis, which falls along a similar narrative: Palestinian leaders rejected statehood and peaceful coexistence offered in the 1947 UN Partition proposal, after which Arab nations launched a coordinated war of destruction against Israel.
I replied to UNRWA’s posts. My last tweet to UNRWA: “please also mention Hamas diversion of resources to weapons & terror tunnels when they should be building infrastructure to help Gazans.” Minutes later, I was blocked from the UNRWA Twitter feed. Views like mine are evidently filtered out.
I am of course flattered — and more than a little surprised — that a UN agency cares enough about my opinions to lift a finger in response. Its reaction would be fine –for a private account. If your Aunt Betty wants to block someone from her Twitter page because of hurt feelings or discordant opinions, so be it. But should a publicly-funded entity that proclaims itself a champion of freedom of expression be allowed to use social media settings as a tool to blot out dissent?
And how about the fact that the US, which really does uphold and protect freedom of expression, funds over 20% of the UN’s $5 billion-plus budget?
To be sure, there are two sides to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a comprehensive and peaceful two-state solution must be found through compromise and direct negotiations. Yet one wonders whether some at the UN are allergic to the suggestion that Hamas and its culture of violence perpetuate the deplorable status quo in Gaza. Rendering aid to those who suffer is indeed a noble cause, worthy and fitting of a UN agency. But solutions will not be found without open and honest dialogue about the root causes of the suffering. Like jihadism, the muzzling of dissent tends not to lead to social progress.