Toward the beginning of her tenure as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley commented that the UN is a strange place.
Haley’s comment reflected her astonishment at the extreme nature of the UN’s anti-Israel bias. This bias is reflected in a number of UN bodies.
The United Nation’s Obsession with Israel
In 2016, the UN General Assembly, comprised of all 193 member states, adopted 26 country-specific resolutions.1 Twenty of these condemned Israel. The General Assembly issued an unprecedented ten critical resolutions against Israel in a single day. From 2012 to 2015, 86 percent of all country-specific resolutions passed by the General Assembly were directed at Israel only.
The UN’s Human Rights Council also points a laser eye on Israel to the exclusion of other countries. From 2006 to 2016, fully half of their critical resolutions were directed at Israel—-a tiny country with only 0.11 per cent of the world’s population. To anyone concerned with fairness this is galling, especially given that the members of the Human Rights Council have included some of the world’s top human rights abusers—-countries such as Libya, China, Cuba, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
It doesn’t end there. In 2016, UNESCO, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, declared Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, old city and other ancient Jewish holy sites to be “Palestinian territory.” In doing so they erased over 3,000 years of Jewish history and gave false credit to a Palestinian national identity that did not exist until the 1960s.
This anti-Israel bias is so extreme that in 2016 even former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon felt moved to comment on it. Normally impartial to a fault, he observed, “Decades of political maneuverings have created a disproportionate volume of resolutions, reports and conferences criticizing Israel…… In many cases, rather than helping the Palestinian cause, this reality has hampered the ability of the United Nations to fulfill its role effectively.”
This anti-Israel bias is no accident. It reflects the reality that the United Nations is dominated by Muslim states and their allies, including many nations that are dependent on Arab oil. These Muslim countries and their enablers have become a consistent source of anti-Israel bias.
What about Human Rights in the Rest of the World?
To an objective observer this anti-Israel bias must seem strange. After all, Israel is a tiny country that has only a fraction of a percentage of the world’s population. And more importantly, it is a beacon of freedom and human rights when compared to all of its neighboring countries, as well as many countries in other regions of the world.2
The rest of this post is a summary of the dire human rights situation in a few countries around the world. (There are many more countries that abuse human rights than I was able to include here.) This will highlight the absurdity of singling out Israel, a relative paragon of human rights, while ignoring or minimizing horrific human rights abuse around the globe.
How do the Palestinian territories—-Israel’s next door neighbors—-fare on the human rights scale? This is a good place to start.
The great majority of Palestinians living in the territories are under self-rule by the autonomous governments of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In its 2017/2018 report on human rights in the PA and Gaza, Amnesty International paints a bleak picture.3
During 2017/2018, the PA carried out 147 attacks on media freedom. According to the report, “These included arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment during interrogations, confiscation of equipment, physical assaults, bans on reporting and the banning of 29 websites critical of the West Bank authorities.” Suppression of press freedoms is even worse in Gaza.
In 2017, the PA passed the Electronics Crimes Law that criminalizes journalists and others who criticize PA officials in social media and other on-line sites. This law allows for arbitrary detention and imprisonment for up to 25 years’ hard labor for anyone who commits the vaguely defined offense of disturbing “public order, national unity or social peace.” This new law merely extends to electronic media the PA’s well-established practice of quashing all forms of criticism of the government.
In both the West Bank and Gaza, government authorities used threats, excessive force and arbitrary arrests to suppress public demonstrations.
Hamas is known for its quick justice and public executions of detainees, often on poorly substantiated charges of “collusion” with Israel.
According to Amnesty International, “[T]orture and other ill treatment of detainees remained common and was committed with impunity by Palestinian police and
security forces in the West Bank, and by Hamas police and security forces in Gaza.”
In the PA and Gaza the lower status of women and girls is reflected in the law and its application. Women and girls have little recourse against sexual assault and gender-based violence. Honor killings of women and girls are part of Palestinian culture and are perpetuated by the law and police practice. In the year covered by the Amnesty International report, 28 women and girls were killed by male relatives in order to restore “family honor.” Police and government authorities often fail to intervene and Palestinian courts minimize or eschew punishment for the murderers. Palestinian law also enables men who rape or commit sexual assault against women to avoid punishment by marrying the victim.
Gay men are routinely murdered by male relatives with impunity.
Human rights in Gaza have been further eroded by a political conflict between the rival PA and Hamas factions. In order to pressure Hamas to relinquish rule of Gaza to the PA, the PA has taken a number of actions that have harmed the civilian population in Gaza. These include cutting electricity supplies and other essential services, cutting salary payments to 60,000 PA government workers who live in Gaza, and suspending payments for transfers of Gaza residents for medical care outside of the Gaza Strip. These restrictions have further impoverished Gazans and deprived them of even a basic standard of living, at the same time that the rulers of the PA and Gaza have enriched themselves with government graft.
Do Israel’s other Arab neighbors fare any better on human rights?4
In 2014, military leader Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi overthrew the popularly elected Muslim Brotherhood government. Although Egypt has always had repressive governments, under al-Sisi the repression has grown exponentially. Ever fearful of political dissent, Egypt’s military rulers have silenced the political opposition, employing systematic torture, arbitrary arrests and “disappearances.” New legislation has allowed the government to systematically destroy civil society organizations, especially opposition news media and non-governmental human rights organizations. There has been a brutal crackdown against gay and lesbian people, employing forced confessions and prison terms. Even performers such as belly dancers have been arrested and imprisoned. The government has also acted against organized labor.
Many thousands of civilians have been killed and many more injured in an armed conflict between Iranian-backed Houthi militants and coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia. The humanitarian situation is dire, characterized by lack of food, water and medical care, as well as thousands of destroyed homes and civilian infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of children are on the verge of dying from starvation.
Neither side in this civil war has been constrained by the Geneva Convention or the laws of war. Houthi forces have indiscriminately launched artillery into civilian areas and have planted internationally banned land mines. The Houthis have detained, abused and “disappeared” many individuals. The Saudi coalition has used banned cluster weapons. US and Saudi Coalition strikes have resulted in many civilian deaths.
What began as a small popular uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 has now become one of the deadliest conflicts in the world. Civilians are caught among the al-Assad government, backed by Iran and Russia, various militias, and the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and the US.
To date almost half a million civilians have died and millions have been displaced internally or forced to flee to refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. Millions have fled to Europe. The Syrian government has used banned chemical weapons. They have indiscriminately bombed cities, often targeting schools, hospitals and food markets. They have withheld humanitarian aid as a weapon of war. Many thousands have been arbitrarily imprisoned and tortured. And thousands are missing. ISIS has planted land mines and used human shields. US and US-led coalition forces carried out airstrikes that resulted in high civilian casualties.
Sudan is ruled by one of the most ruthless mass murderers of modern times, President al-Bashir. Al-Bashir has used the existence of political and armed opposition groups as a pretext to slaughter thousands of people. He has sent armed helicopters to strafe villagers who are armed only with bows and arrows. Government forces have repeatedly attacked, killed and raped civilians and looted and destroyed property. As a result, hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled their homes. His government censors the media and arrests and tortures political opponents of the regime.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir for crimes against humanity in the Darfur region of Sudan. Despite this, the US and European Union have continued to support the al-Bashir government, citing its support for counterterrorism and control of illegal migration.
Unfortunately, human rights abuses are not confined to the Arab world. Below I discuss just a few of the most egregious abusers outside the Arab countries.
The Uighur Minority in China
The Uighurs (pronounced “Wee-gers”) are an ethnic minority group, eleven million of whom live in northwest China. They are mostly Muslim. They live primarily in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and speak a distinct Uighur language. For years, the Chinese have faced unrest
among the Uighurs. The Uighurs have carried out a number of gruesome terrorist attacks against Chinese civilians.
The Chinese have ruled the Uighurs with a heavy hand. In 2018, the Economist reported that the Uighurs lived under a “fully-fledged police state with extensive controls and restrictions on their religious, cultural and social life.”
Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs have been placed in “re-education camps” under cramped and dirty conditions. The purpose of these camps is to stamp out Uighur culture, language and religion. One expert described these camps as “ a form of enforced disappearances in a very organized way.” China defends its repression by calling it “extremism eradication” and argues that the reeducation centers are a necessary measure to control terrorism.
In a BBC Radio interview, a Chinese doctor described his role in harvesting organs from Uighur prisoners.5 The “surgery” took place in a van parked on the Chinese execution grounds. In order to preserve the integrity of the harvested organs, surgeons had to remove them while the “donor” was still alive. No anesthesia was used. Instead, the Chinese prison authorities carefully shot the donors in the right side of the chest, leaving them semi-conscious and alive, but effectively paralyzed. Thus, the donors were unable to resist the organ removal.
“I took his liver and two kidneys,” the doctor told the BBC Radio interviewer. “I didn’t feel guilty,” continued the doctor. “I was born into a society that brainwashed us” into believing these were enemies of the state.
The Chinese government also engages in systematic human rights abuses of other ethnic minorities such as Tibetans.
South Sudan split from the nation of Sudan in an attempt to bring peace to the region. Far from securing peace, civil war broke out between factions within South Sudan. Over three million civilians have fled their homes and hundreds of thousands have taken refuge in United Nations compounds and refugee camps. Armed groups have destroyed clinics, schools, hospitals and other civilian structures. The government has arrested thousands of journalists, politicians and others.
Central African Republic
Armed conflict between warring factions has triggered escalating violence. Militias target civilians and the government is unable to keep control. Almost half a million civilians have been internally displaced and a similar number are living in refugee camps in neighboring countries.
The current government, headed by reactionary Islamic clerics, came into power as the result of a revolution in 1979. The new government solidified its hold on the country by arresting and executing thousands of dissidents. In a 1980-1988 war with Iraq, half a million Iranians died, including over 30,000 schoolchildren recruited by the government to serve as human mine sweepers.6
Despite the trappings of democracy—-elections and a parliament—in reality the country is governed by theocrats who have severely restricted human rights in the service of retaining power. The security forces and judiciary severely inhibit the rights of free expression and assembly. The government imposes strict Islamic codes of behavior in every sphere of life. Minority rights are ruthlessly suppressed.
Recently, thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in cities across the country to protest government repression, lack of basic freedoms, corruption, and poor economic conditions.
In recent years, Turkey’s President Recep Tayip Erdogan has systematically transformed Turkey from a relative democracy to an autocracy. In response to an aborted coup in 2016, Erdogan instituted a state of emergency which has allowed him to rule with dictatorial powers.
Tens of thousands of public officials, teachers, journalists and others suspected of disloyalty to the regime have been dismissed from their jobs or imprisoned. The minority Kurds are repressed with attacks on Kurdish villages and the imprisonment of Kurdish opposition leaders. Three and a half million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey but face extensive discrimination in education, employment and other areas. In 2017, voters approved a referendum expanding presidential powers and weakening the parliament and judiciary. This is likely to increase government repression.
In 2016, human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi assumed leadership of the country after her release from house arrest by the military. Many in the international community hoped that, under Suu Kyi’s leadership, Myanmar would improve its dismal human rights record. Unfortunately, the opposite happened.
The military and civilian governments have targeted ethnic minorities. The army’s campaigns against ethnic militias in the north of the country have displaced thousands of civilians. But the Myanmar army’s greatest human rights violations have been against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group concentrated in Rakhine State. Entire Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground. The army has committed mass killings and widespread rapes. These actions are crimes against humanity. As a result of this campaign, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh for safety, where they remain in squalid and overcrowded refugee camps, dependent for survival on foreign humanitarian assistance.
Despite the appearance of civilian rule, the military controls key parts of government and is able to act independently of civilian control. In addition, the government prosecutes journalists and political opposition figures so that freedom of expression is severely curtailed.
Unfortunately, this is just a partial list of countries that routinely abuse human rights.
Israel is a nation committed in law and practice to human rights. Even those who are critical of Israel on this score will have to admit that the human rights abuses of other states are far greater than any abuses Israel might commit.
The UN’s obsession with criticizing Israel is motivated by geopolitical considerations and alliances among UN member states.
It is time to state the obvious. By focusing on democratic Israel, the UN has distracted attention from the world’s true human rights abusers. In this way, the UN has harmed the cause of human rights.
The real victims of the UN’s obsession with Israel have been the people repressed, injured, imprisoned, raped, silenced, and murdered—-not by Israel, but by the world’s true human rights abusers.
- Many of the statistics presented here were drawn from: Fact Check: Does the UN Single Out Israel? Sivak, D. (Fact Check Editor). Check Your Fact. Retrieved August 3, 2018 from: http://Checkyourfact.Com/2017/12/24/Fact-Check-Does-The-Un-Single-Out-Israel/
- Freedom House [website]. Freedom in the World: 2018, Table of Country Scores. Retrieved August 11, 2018 from: https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world-2018-table-country-scores
- Amnesty International [website]. Retrieved August 11, 2018 from:https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/palestine-state-of/report-palestine-state-of/
- The material that follows was largely drawn from: Human Rights Watch [website]. List of Countries. Retrieved August 8, 2018 from:
- BBC World Service. Uighur Exile Describes Life in China, August 2, 2018.
Retrieved August 8, 2018 from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06gcp5t
- Berger, R.M. We All Want the Same Thing: Or Do We? Times of Israel Blog. April 22, 2018. Retrieved August 13, 2018 from: https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/we-all-want-the-same-thing-or-do-we/