October 11, 2007 | Commentary on International Organizations
Congress has sent the United Nations a long-overdue message: Don't expect America to bankroll your farce of a Human Rights Council.
Last month, the Senate followed earlier House action and voted to withhold about $3 million from our annual U.N. "dues" payment. The move has nothing to do with economizing. It's a fraction of the more than $400 million we pour into U.N. headquarters every year as our portion of the U.N. regular budget. But it represents that share of our dues money that flows into the Human Rights Council's kitty each year.
The council is supposed to be the United Nations' premier defender of human rights. But its pitiful performance puts the lie to that claim.
That's nothing new, of course. For decades, the council's predecessor body - the U.N. Commission on Human Rights - served as little more than a propaganda platform in which countries notorious for their abuse of human rights quashed any efforts to criticize their atrocities and trumpeted over-the-top denunciations of Israel.
The low point came in 2003, when the commission elected serial human rights abuser Libya as its chair. Soon after, even former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had to acknowledge, "We have reached a point at which the commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole."
In March 2006, the United Nations replaced the commission with the Human Rights Council. Worried that the resolution creating the council lacked any safeguards to keep the new organization from following the disreputable path plowed by its predecessor, the U.S. was one of only four countries to vote against it. Those concerns have turned out to be fully justified.
In its first year, the council embraced the commission's obsessive focus on Israel, while steadfastly ignoring far worse human rights abuses worldwide. U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based watchdog group, noted that the council issued 12 country-specific resolutions, of which nine focused on Israel.
The council has avoided condemning abuses in other countries. International pressure led it to adopt several noncondemning resolutions on Sudan. Similarly, Myanmar's protectors on the council were forced to pass a resolution deploring the "violent repression of peaceful demonstrations" in that country during a recent special session. However, the council failed to condemn Belarus, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and other governments for the abuses that, sadly, have not been given similar attention in the press. The council also maintained a discreet silence on the notorious problems in Azerbaijan, Egypt, China, Cuba, Pakistan and Russia. That silence is completely understandable, though, when you realize that these six countries sit on the council passing judgment on others.
Amazingly enough, the council may be doing a worse job than the commission did. It has jettisoned inherited procedures that monitored or sought to improve human rights practices in Belarus, Cuba, Iran and Uzbekistan, countries widely known to deny basic rights to their citizens. And it has adopted new rules to pressure and intimidate independent experts.
As U.N. Watch summed it up this May: The council "has been dominated by an increasingly brazen alliance of repressive regimes" seeking to undermine the council and its mechanisms for protecting human rights.
No wonder bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate want to pull the funding plug on this outfit. In its current state, the Human Rights Council retards, rather than advances, fundamental human rights. Unless it is radically reformed and establishes a record of advancing human rights, it doesn't deserve one American penny.
Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham fellow in international regulatory affairs.
First appeared in the Baltimore Sun