The tragedy of the latest United Nations effort to reform its
discredited Human Rights Commission, approved last week by the
General Assembly, is not that it's a breathtaking defense of the
status quo. It surely appears to be that - under the rules of the
new Human Rights Council, not even genocidal states such as Sudan
could be categorically denied membership.
No, the real sadness lies in the fact that so many of the supposed defenders of human rights have endorsed this charade, while chastising the United States for voting against it. Their ire suggests that a destructive ideology now infects the human rights movement - a mix of anti-Americanism and utopian internationalism.
Recall the crisis of legitimacy that engulfed the Human Rights Commission in recent years. It granted membership to many of the world's most repressive governments; it ignored atrocities in Sudan, Myanmar and North Korea; it kept quiet about political and religious persecution throughout much of the Muslim world, and it failed to clearly define and condemn acts of terrorism.
The UN remedy? Create a Human Rights Council elected by a simple majority of the General Assembly, which could later vote to suspend members for bad behavior. A U.S. proposal to simply ban egregious human rights violators from membership was scrapped. A proposal requiring candidates to get a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly was also rejected.
Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights, claimed that American opposition to the UN plan was no different from the stonewalling of thuggish states such as Cuba and Pakistan. Thanks to Bush administration policies, she said, "the United States can no longer claim to be the standard-bearer on human rights."
Dozens of rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, marched in lock step. As Yvonne Terlingen of Amnesty International put it, "This is an historic opportunity that governments must not squander for selfish political interests."
It now appears that the last thing many human rights groups really wanted was a thoroughly reformed human rights body at the UN - meaning an organization dominated by strong democracies. That would deprive them of an international forum in which to criticize America for its alleged global assault on human rights.
This helps explain why many of the non-governmental organizations interviewed by the Congressional Task Force on the United Nations opposed any meaningful criteria for membership to a new UN body. There was little enthusiasm for the concept that democracies are in the best position to safeguard human rights.
It also explains why rights groups rallied around a highly politicized UN report demanding the closure of the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Even though the document was produced by the infamous Human Rights Commission - whose representatives declined even to visit Guantánamo - activists were quick to endorse its findings.
If the UN is unwilling to pass a resolution barring tyrants and dictators from the new Human Rights Council, the United States must not be afraid to walk away. Congress should debate whether to pull U.S. funding for the Council and invest it instead in human rights organizations outside of the UN system.
With or without American participation in the Human Rights Council, here's what we're likely to see in the months ahead: The council will welcome into membership a rogue's gallery of dictatorships. It will give Sudan a pass as the killing in Darfur intensifies. It will target Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, for special censure. And - working hand-in- glove with NGOs determined to undermine America's global standing - it will treat the U.S.-led war on terrorism as the gravest threat to freedom on the planet.
It used to be that cynics about human rights were confined to the capitals of communist regimes and banana republics. Now, it seems, they're manning the human rights offices in New York, Brussels and Geneva.
Joseph Loconte is senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is a fellow in Anglo-American security policy at The Heritage Foundation. Both served on the Congressional Task Force on the UN.
First appeared in The Boston Globe