On Monday the UN opens two major human rights meetings, the annual session of its top women’s rights body, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York, and a month-long session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Lecturing Americans about human rights protection from the UN-provided podium will be CSW member Iran – where women are stoned to death for adultery – and Council member Saudi Arabia – which regularly lops off heads for all kinds of offenses.
Not surprisingly, the results of such bodies are somewhat skewed. 2011 statistics are now available that indicate the frequency of criticism lodged against specific states by all UN human rights-related bodies.
Of 193 member states, the country most condemned for human rights violations by the UN was Israel. Coming in at number four was the United States. Iran, China and Somalia were criticized on fewer occasions than the U.S. and were tied for seventh place.
UN concerns about the United States included the effects of the foreclosure crisis, failure to grant a UN expert unmonitored access to Private Bradley Manning (the WikiLeaks accused), the planned burning of a Koran by a Florida Church, “sketchy” information about the killing of Usama bin Laden, failure to cooperate with a UN expert’s inquiry on the “targeted killing” of Al Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki, and the lack of a national water policy.
The only developments keeping pace with the UN debacle is the steady stream of Obama administration attempts to defend it.
On February 16, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, Esther Brimmer, told the World Affairs Council of Greater Atlanta that the Human Rights Council “has been rightly criticized in the past for being…absurdly focused on excoriating Israel” but the Obama administration had since been having “great success.”
In fact, 2012 promises to look a lot like 2011.
The Human Rights Council will adopt at its March session at least three more resolutions condemning Israel, and one each for a mere handful of other states.
Next week, the Commission on the Status of Women will again adopt just one country-specific resolution concerned about the violation of women’s rights anywhere in the world – Israel for allegedly violating the rights of Palestinian women.
Nevertheless, behind-the-scenes the Obama administration is engaged in a major effort to capture another term at the Human Rights Council.
Last year the UN decided to annualize Council membership and begin terms in January rather than September. It was anticipated that this would also move the election cycle from the spring to the fall of 2012. But since the U.S. is now completing its first three-year term, President Obama’s Council re-election bid threatens to coincide with the final stretch of his presidential re-election campaign. Rather than risk having to defend his UN engagement charade at an extremely visible moment, American diplomats are working overtime pressing for May 2012 elections.
Interestingly, a second Council term would only start January 2013 and staggered elections would allow the U.S. simply to stand down now and run next year instead.
Given that the Bush administration vehemently refused to lend legitimacy to the Council by becoming a member, Obama’s maneuver is either a brazen attempt to shove membership down the throat of a future Republican administration or a cocky assumption of a Democratic win in November 2012.
At the same time, the administration isn’t taking re-election to the Council for granted. This helps explain a few more recent pro-UN and anti-Israel chess moves.
Two weeks ago President Obama put $79 million dollars in his budget for UNESCO and began pressing Congress to remove a prohibition on American funding to the organization.
The congressional injunction had kicked in after UNESCO pre-emptively granted Palestine “statehood” status. The congressional move had successfully put the brakes on Palestinian attempts to achieve statehood via the UN without committing to peaceful co-existence with Israel. By seeking to overturn it, the president makes clear that burnishing his pro-UN credentials is his higher priority -- and worrying about increasing the daylight between his administration and Israel is a distant second.
Anne Bayefsky is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.