March 24, 2006
By Joseph Loconte and Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society
Read More >>
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2014, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973