September 20, 2004

September 20, 2004 | Commentary on International Organizations

Sudan: Exhibit A for UN Reform

All Things Considered audio

It's bad enough that the United Nations has dragged its feet in confronting the Sudanese government as militias have killed thousands of innocents and displaced over a million Sudanese. The tragedy is that the international community defers to a watchdog group-the U.N. Human Rights Commission-with no standards for membership, no accountability, and no clear moral vision for upholding human rights.

Recall what's happened over the last year in Sudan: Arab militias, backed by the Islamic regime in Khartoum, have been burning villages, raping and killing civilians with impunity. It's estimated that perhaps 10,000 people are dying each month from disease and violence. Various monitoring groups have gathered first-hand accounts of the atrocities. In July the U.S. Congress accused the Sudanese government of genocide, and last week Secretary of State Colin Powell, testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the same charge.

And what has been the response of the United Nations? It re-elected Sudan to a seat on the Human Rights Commission. This is the agency charged with investigating abuses and naming and shaming rogue regimes. I was in Geneva earlier this year to attend the Commission's annual meeting. I saw delegates push numerous resolutions condemning American foreign policy, but none criticizing Sudan.

Thus the spectacle before us: A radical, Islamic dictatorship complicit in genocide is sitting in judgment on the policies of Western democracies. The U.N.'s highest political ideals-expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-are supposedly being guarded by one of the world's most despotic governments.

It's as if Alice in Wonderland has teamed up with George Orwell.

True, the United Nations is helping with humanitarian assistance in Sudan and setting up safe zones for refugees. The UN Security Council has endorsed a US resolution against the government, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan agrees that the sovereignty of nation states must not be used as a shield to cover up genocide.

Nevertheless, the failure of moral and religious leadership in the United Nations is breathtaking. Neither the Secretary-General nor any other UN official has suggested that Sudan surrender its seat on the human rights commission.

This is a far cry from the founding vision of the United Nations. The Commission's earliest leaders-including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Lebanese Christian diplomat Charles Malik-fought courageously for its bedrock proposition: that every individual has a sacred, inherent dignity which must be recognized and protected by civilized states.

Today a fog of corrupted diplomacy has taken hold over the UN Human Rights Commission, typified by its hypocrisy over Sudan. Until that fog is lifted, the cause of human rights-not to mention the credibility of the United Nations-remains at great risk.

Joseph Loconte, religion fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is editor of the forthcoming "The End of Illusions: America's Churches and Hitler's Gathering Storm, 1938-41.''

About the Author

Joseph Loconte William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society

First aired on National Public Radio's All Things Considered