Last week's gathering of world leaders
in New York, marking the 60th anniversary of the United Nations,
already looks like another forlorn triumph of rhetoric over reform.
Secretary General Kofi Annan billed the event as a
"once-in-a-generation opportunity" to confront global threats and
revitalize the United Nations: "It is, in short, an opportunity for
all humankind." It was, in fact, a missed opportunity: Never has
the gulf been greater between the humanistic ideals of the
international body and the shameful performance of its institutions
- a gulf hardly acknowledged by the summit's final outcome
is this failure more grievous than in the U.N.'s record on human
rights. First, there's the dysfunctional Commission on Human
Rights. Annan admitted earlier this year that the commission has
"cast a shadow on the reputation of the U.N. system as a whole."
That conclusion, however, should have come long ago. For years the
commission has allowed repressive governments to hijack its agenda,
quash criticism of gross human-rights abusers, and vilify the state
of Israel. According to Freedom House, 15 of the 53 commission
members should be ranked as "unfree" nations. Even Sudan,
accused of genocide, remains a member in good standing.
The U.N. response? Its outcome report ignores the flagrant
mendacity of the Human Rights Commission. It calls for the creation
of a human-rights council, but leaves the details to future
negotiations. The authors obviously reached no agreement on even
minimal criteria for membership - unable to suggest, for example,
that nations under U.N. Security Council sanction for human rights
violations be barred. It's not even clear if the new council would
continue to pass country-specific resolutions to name and shame the
Second, there's the problem of the exploitation and sexual abuse
of refugees. It's bad enough that U.N. "peacekeepers" are
notoriously unable to protect women in U.N. camps in western Sudan
(where leaving the camps for food invites rape). It is utterly
contemptible that U.N. peacekeepers themselves are part of the
problem: With the apparent complicity of U.N. officials, they've
created a predatory sexual culture that's gone unchallenged for at
least a decade.
Late last year, Kofi Annan finally admitted that there were 150
allegations of abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and staff in the
Democratic Republic of Congo. They involve U.N. military and
civilian personnel from Nepal, Morocco, Tunisia, Uruguay, South
Africa, Pakistan, and France. The victims are defenseless refugees
- many of them children - who've already been brutalized by years
of war. The charges, still being investigated, come four years
after another U.N. report found sexual violence against refugees in
West Africa to be "endemic." As Amnesty International puts it,
rather aptly: "Even the guardians have to be guarded."
The U.N.'s latest response? The summiteers in New York made no
direct reference to the scandal, preferring a passionless
pass-the-buck recommendation: "We...urge those measures adopted in
the relevant General Assembly resolutions based upon the
recommendations mentioned above be fully implemented without
delay." Urging, however, is not the same thing as acting. There
have been no calls for an independent investigation of the Congo
sex scandal, no meaningful steps to prevent further abuses, and no
effective system of accountability.
Finally, consider the posture of U.N leaders toward some of the
most important defenders of human rights - the charities and
faith-based groups that uphold the highest ideals of the United
Nations. It's true that in recent years the U.N. has devoted more
attention to "civil society," the non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) that offer social services or advocate on behalf of various
social and political causes. On the eve of this year's summit,
3,500 staff from over 1,160 NGOs met with U.N. officials to promote
their vision of a retooled U.N.
It all sounds very reform-minded, until one studies the list of
participants and attends some of the meetings. Organizations that
work to assist AIDS orphans, eradicate human trafficking, curb
prostitution, or defend religious liberty don't get much air time.
The majority of the registered groups have little interest in
promoting basic democratic rights. Some - from the Swiss-based
Institute for Planetary Synthesis to the Healthy, Happy, Holy
Organization in Espanola, New Mexico - are just plain wacky. Many
function simply as front groups for statist and despotic
governments, such as China, Cuba, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, most of the U.N.'s favorite NGOs would use international
rulings to overturn democratic protections in their home countries.
The U.N.'s vision of civil society, in other words, is a penumbra
of activist groups that simply endorse its agenda of centralized
economies, large welfare states, and massive social engineering.
Nevertheless, Shashi Tharoor, undersecretary general for
communications, was effusive with praise: "You are the guardians of
the reform of the international system."
If that's the case, then we can expect the human-rights agenda
of the United Nations to slide even further into irrelevance and
ignominy. The quickened conscience of U.N. leaders 60 years ago, in
the wake of the atrocities of WWII, is missing today - and probably
Loconte is a research fellow in religion and Nile Gardiner is a fellow
in Anglo-American security at the Heritage Foundation. Both served
on the 2005 Congressional Task Force on the United