There is one main reason why the Obama administration misjudged Egypt entirely – they cannot get their facts straight. For the last two years they have been busy defending the U.N. as an effective vehicle for promoting U.S. interests, in the name of engagement.
But for the three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s reign the U.N. has dedicated its human rights apparatus to demonizing the state of Israel and ignoring the human rights victims in Egypt and across the Arab world. As dissatisfaction and unrest have grown in the region over his presidency, the Obama administration failed to recognize the U.N.’s gross negligence or to take responsibility for ensuring an alternative vehicle to promote democracy. Instead, it legitimized the U.N.’s top human rights body, the Human Rights Council (HRC), by joining it.
Notwithstanding the meltdown in Egypt, Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs picked Tuesday to give her evidence for the success of the Obama foreign policy of engagement with the U.N. and its human rights world.
At a speech to the Brookings Institution she said: “Since the United States joined the Human Rights Council, it has not held a single special session on Israel.” Except that the U.S. took its seat on the Council September 14, 2009, and the Council held its sixth special session on Israel on October 15-16, 2009. It was a rather unforgettable session, actually, since it was the occasion the Council endorsed the notorious Goldstone report.
It is a mystery why the person in charge of international organizations in this country has no clue what the actual record is of the Council, but here is a short synopsis for her edification:
There have been twelve country-specific special sessions of the Human Rights Council in its history. Half of them have been directed at Israel alone. Half of all the resolutions and decisions of the Human Rights Council critical of a specific states’ human rights record have been about Israel alone, and half on the rest of the world. There are ten permanent agenda items of the Council which govern all of its business. One of those items is only about condemning Israel and one is about any other “human rights situation that requires the Council’s attention” elsewhere on the planet. Ten countries were once subject to a specific human rights investigation, but the Council discontinued them for the likes of Belarus, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Maldives, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Now consider the U.N.’s record on Egypt and what it has meant for any hope of a peaceful and realistic transition to democracy. There has never been a single resolution of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Egypt, the Council having been in operation since 2006. Not a single resolution on human rights in Egypt was adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Council’s predecessor in operation from 1946- 2006. Neither the Commission, nor the Council, ever appointed an investigator to report specifically on human rights violations in Egypt.
On the contrary, Egypt was a welcome and powerful member of the U.N. human rights apparatus. It was a member of the U.N. Human Rights Commission for almost half of its half-century in operation, and a member of the Council until just last year.
Moreover, after joining the Council, the Obama administration’s first major act was to boost Egypt’s human rights bona fides. In September 2009 it chose Egypt as its partner to produce a resolution on freedom of expression and then included references to “special duties and responsibilities” on the exercise of free speech and “voluntary codes of ethical conduct” on the media. State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh heralded the new “universal understanding of freedom of expression.” Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor Michael Posner cooed: “our effort with the government of Egypt…at the Council is emblematic of a new kind of an approach, new kind of alliances, a new level of engagement and participation.”
It is not difficult to figure out why the people of Egypt had nowhere else to go. The U.N. human rights authorities devoted their time, attention and (American taxpayer resources) to attacking Israel and enabling Egypt, while the Obama administration spent its capital claiming Jews living on any Arab-claimed land were the key obstacle to Middle East peace and stability.
The Egyptian people were abandoned by the U.N. They were left to their own devices by an Obama administration mired in pro-U.N. rhetoric and basing its judgment about the efficacy of the institution on ill-informed advisors. Today, we are all paying the price for that neglect and ignorance.
Anne Bayefsky is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.