Published February 28, 2011
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration are on an urgent rescue mission – for the United Nations Human Rights Council. Clinton is not in Geneva today to do something about human rights. She is in Geneva to protect the administration’s investment in the U.N. human rights organization’s top body, which only six months ago welcomed Libya as a full member and only three months ago passed it through its meaningless “universal periodic review” process, touted as its number one monitoring procedure.
Saving the Council’s reputation will be no mean feat. After all, the U.N. has spent years promoting Libya as a human rights authority figure – it was president of its Human Rights Commission in 2003 before being elected to the “reformed” Human Rights Council. Clinton’s trip assumed such urgency because President Obama made the decision to join the Council the flagship of his U.N.-focused foreign policy.
That decision is also in very big trouble for something that happened Thursday of last week and has traveled below the radar screen as the Council and the rest of the U.N. system try to cover-up their support for Qaddafi all these years.
The explicit reason that the administration joined the Council was to engage “from the inside” in a reform process. When the Council was created in 2006 by the General Assembly, it was given five years to review its progress and reform anything found lacking. On Thursday, that review process came to its conclusion – and today Clinton tried to do everything possible to hide its abysmal failure.
The Council has two obvious flaws. Number one it has a standing agenda that governs all of its operations, with ten items on it. One is dedicated to condemning the state of Israel and one is for the remaining 191 UN countries that it might be interested in should it ever decide there was another “human rights situations that require[d] the Council’s attention.” The singular effort to use its so-called human rights system to demonize the Jewish state has been a roaring success. Half of its special sessions on specific countries and half of all its resolutions and decisions critical of any state condemn Israel alone.
When the President Obama joined the Council it promised that changing the discriminatory agenda would be their first priority. On Thursday, we discovered, it was a hoax. The review process has been going on in the context of a working group of all interested members of the U.N. The working group adopted its report on Thursday by consensus – with the U.S. present. And in the usual opaque U.N. language, the consensus report states: “The Council’s agenda and framework for programme of work are as is specified in the annex to Council resolution 5/1.” In plain English, that means business as usual, resolution 5/1 being the discriminatory agenda adopted in June 2007.
The loss can be measured by the administration’s own words. On October 27 of last year the U.S. delegation placed on the table its demands for reform – duly transmitted to an American audience. Agenda reform was top of the list. “The most entrenched and indefensible manifestation of structural bias in this Council comes in the form of…the only agenda item devoted to one country…The United States believes strongly that…as a group charged with examining what must be done to improve the credibility and efficacy of this Council it is incumbent upon us to….to do what is right to help the Council become more evenhanded and depoliticized.”
Secretary Clinton today repeated the mantra. But what she did not say is that when the business-as-usual U.N. “reform” report was approved late Thursday, the only thing the U.S. delegation did was to make a short statement that it “did not support” the permanent Israel-bashing item. In the world of U.N. diplomacy that is backstabbing at its finest.
If the Obama administration had really wanted to stand on principle they could have said “we do not join consensus on this document.” They could have demanded that there be a vote in the Council on the document before sending it to the General Assembly for formal approval, and then voted against it for the world to see. And most importantly, they could have made it very clear that the absence of a change would result in the U.S. departure from the Council. They did none of the above.
Instead, Obama caved. Saving the Council was most important and the U.S. was going down with the ship. The “reform” process will now proceed merrily through the U.N. system without a glitch. The President of the General Assembly said this morning: “I congratulate the Working Group on adopting the Human Rights Council review by consensus.” The U.S. delegation was all present. Nobody peeped.
The second obvious flaw with the Human Rights Council that Hillary is trying her hardest to paper over is its membership. How did Libya get on the Council in the first place? U.S. Ambassador John Bolton pointed out – when the U.S. voted against the General Assembly resolution that adopted the Council – that it had no membership criteria. The only requirement is this: “when electing members of the Council, Member States [of the U.N. General Assembly] shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto.”
The U.N. set up a lovely website where candidates can deposit their “pledges.” Here is what Libya pledged last May, which was just fine by the vast majority of members of the General Assembly. “The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya is fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights principles…including the right to direct participation in public life…The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya has paid great attention to human rights over the past 30 years.” That statement was good enough to garner the votes of 155 of 188 UN members and to send Libya to the Council.
But Libya was not alone. Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba and company are all members of this morally bankrupt institution which Secretary Clinton is doing her damnedest to save.
And then there’s this: On Friday, March 4, Iran – the country that buries women naked to their waist and then stones them to death for “adultery” – is going to take its seat as a full-fledged member of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.
If President Obama and his secretary of state really understood the error of using the United Nations to prop up human rights demons, then rather than attempting, even today, to help the Human Rights Council cover its tracks, it should be telling the world and the U.N. to remove Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women.
And it should resign from the Human Rights Council effective immediately now that its “reform” has proved to be impossible – as was obvious to human rights victims from the start.
But don’t hold your breath. The Obama administration would rather promote the institution of the United Nations than save real people from the U.N.’s grotesque neglect.
Anne Bayefsky is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.