Critics Question Motives as U.N. Human Rights Officials Prepare to Submit Reports on U.S., Iran

All-star panel weighs in on conflict


The United States, the Islamic Republic of Iran and a few other countries are finding themselves in the hot seat at the United Nations, as U.N. human rights officials known as special rapporteurs submit reports to the General Assembly over the next couple of weeks on topics ranging from freedom of religion to counter-terrorism.

While the reports by the Human Rights Council’s appointed experts are generally well-received, U.N. critics and governments alike view some of the findings as politically motivated and in some cases dismiss reports altogether because of the dubious reputation of the rapporteurs themselves.

“There is a serious problem of moral relativism at the U.N.,” says Anne Bayefsky, a Senior Editor of the Hudson Institute and Editor of Eye on the U.N., a Web site that tracks questionable U.N. activities. “Most of the rapporteurs take their work seriously, but some cast the U.S., Canada and European countries as the worst of the worst rights abusers.”

On Thursday, the Special Rapporteur on Iran will accuse Tehran of muzzling freedom of expression, summary executions and torture of detainees. Today, the U.S. took heat from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture for subjecting prisoners to solitary confinement.

“While many of these U.N. experts do good work, there are a number of them engaged in fashionable anti-Western and anti-American politics,” says Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, a U.N. watchdog organization. 

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Among the special rapporteurs delivering reports this week is Richard Falk, who often criticizes U.S. foreign policy and promotes 9/11 conspiracy theories. On Thursday, Falk delivers his findings on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Several years ago, Falk penned a chapter of a book by fellow 9/11 conspiracy theorist, David Griffin, who argues that no plane hit the Pentagon and the World Trade Center was brought down by controlled demolition.

Earlier this year, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice suggested that Falk should be removed from his U.N. post after he claimed on his blog that there had been an “apparent cover-up” by U.S. authorities over the 9/11 attacks.

Although U.N. officials argue that Falk was writing about his personal convictions rather than in his capacity as a U.N. official, UN Watch says the U.N. expert continues to promote 9/11 conspiracies, even writing a tenth anniversary editorial for the Qatari news channel Al Jazeera that questions whether Islamic extremists were behind the attacks.

Next week U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter reports on how China and Gulf Arab states are buying up large swathes of land in Africa and Asia to secure their own food supplies, often at the expense of local populations. However, De Schutter also has plans to travel to Canada to focus on possible food issues there. UN Watch says they asked De Schutter why he has chosen to spend time and money in Canada while there are so many pressing food crises around the world, but the human rights expert has not responded.

“It’s a flawed process,” says Bayefsky. “For everything negative the rapporteurs say about dictatorships and other hardline regimes there is a lot of pressure on them from the anti-Western dominated U.N. human rights establishment to be equally critical of Western governments.”

Though the U.S. in not singled out in his report on torture, U.N. human rights expert, Juan Mendez criticizes America’s “extensive use of solitary confinement,” a practice which he calls “cruel, inhuman and degrading”. Mendez says that between 20,000 and 25,000 people are being held in isolation in the United States. He seeks a worldwide ban on lengthy solitary confinement.

In his report, Mendez says that despite “productive communications” with U.S. officials, he has failed to persuade authorities to let him speak privately with Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier accused of leaking secret documents to WikiLeaks. Mendez told journalist at the U.N. that he plans to issue a report on Manning in the next few weeks.

“America is flawed and like other democracies should be held to account, but in no way does it rank as a priority issue of a global investigator,” says Neuer. “This skewed sense of priority doesn’t help the victims of murderous regimes who truly need to be in the global spotlight.”