April 24, 2008 | Commentary on Democracy and Human Rights
If further proof be needed of the terminal decline of the United Nations as a world body that purports to advance human rights, look no further than the recent appointments of Richard Falk and Jean Ziegler by the UN's Human Rights Council (HRC). Both appointments should be of major concern to U.S. leaders disturbed by the UN's increasing failure in the arena of human rights and the blatant and widespread anti-American and anti-Israeli bias among key UN human rights officials.
Richard Falk, the Emeritus Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice at Princeton, is an outspoken, zealous critic of Israel and American foreign policy who has just been appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories by unanimous vote. Falk has compared Israeli policy to the actions of Nazi Germany, publicly defended the reputation of former Colorado University Professor Ward Churchill, and wrote the foreword to controversial theologian David Ray Griffin's 2004 conspiracy theory treatise The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11. Falk has written of an "American Empire" and a threat of "global fascism," and according to a report in the New York Sun has bizarrely called for an official commission to investigate the imaginary role of neoconservatives in the 9/11 attacks.
Jean Ziegler, a Swiss sociology professor and UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has been an apologist for dictators such as Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe, and once described the West Bank as an Israeli-run "immense concentration camp." As UN Watch revealed, Ziegler even co-founded the Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize in honor of the Libyan dictator. He was elected to the HRC's advisory committee in March with the support of 40 of the Council's 47 members. Ziegler has rarely failed to raise eyebrows with his outspoken views, deriding the United States as an "imperialist dictatorship," rejecting the claim that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, and praising Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe by saying he "has history and morality with him." Ziegler opposed the U.S.-led military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, warning it would have "apocalyptic" consequences for the Afghan people, and spell "the end of the Afghan nation," and famously accused the Coalition in Iraq of cutting off food and water for Iraqi civilians in insurgent strongholds in 2005, a claim that was completely false and without foundation.
The highly controversial appointments further underscore why the United States made the right decision to boycott the new UN Human Rights Council for two years in succession, and to deny the organization future funding as well as credibility. The HRC is the successor to the spectacularly discredited UN Commission on Human Rights, an organization so reviled that even then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, a meek lamb when it came to condemning human rights abuses, somehow mustered the courage to describe it as an embarrassment. Despite inflated expectations that it couldn't be any worse that the Commission, the HRC has been a miserable failure, continuing many of the worst excesses of its predecessor, and firmly fixated upon condemning Israel at every turn.
The current Council includes several of the world's worst human rights violators, including Cuba, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Unsurprisingly, the Council has issued numerous resolutions attacking its favorite target, Israel, while largely turning a blind eye to massive human rights violations in dictatorships such as Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Chinese-ruled Tibet, and Sudan. As the watchdog Eye on the UN has documented, in its first year, nearly three quarters of the Human Rights Council's resolutions and decisions were focused exclusively on the human rights record of Israel.
With his highly sensitive position as the UN's voice on Israeli-Palestinian human rights issues, Richard Falk's controversial views demand close scrutiny. Professor Falk has rightly been refused a visa by Israel, which will fortunately reduce his ability to carry out the task of UN adviser, which begins in May. The move by Tel Aviv is in direct response to an astonishing polemic Falk penned in June last year entitled "Slouching Toward A Palestinian Holocaust," published by the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research. In the article, which he refused to disavow in an interview with the BBC, the Princeton Professor begs the question:
"Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty."
In his piece, Falk goes on to compare Israeli actions in Gaza with the Hutu genocide in Rwanda (where 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered), the Srebrenica massacre by the Serbs of 8,000 Bosnians, and the genocide in Darfur, which has claimed over 200,000 lives at the hands of Sudanese-backed militias, with the caveat that "Gaza is morally far worse, although mass death has not yet resulted." Describing Gaza as a "cauldron of pain and suffering for the entire population" and "the world's largest prison," Falk goes on to describe Israeli policy as imposing "a sub human existence on a people that have been repeatedly and systematically made the target of a variety of severe forms of collective punishment." In Falk's warped view:
"To persist with such an approach under present circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of 'never again.'"
The comparison Falk draws between Israel and Nazi Germany is highly distasteful, insensitive, and insulting, not only to the people of Israel, who include many of the families of the six million victims of the Holocaust, but also to the victims of the Rwanda and Sudan genocides as well as the mass killing in Bosnia. In response to Falk's remarks, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel told the Daily Telegraph: "We take it personally. My grandparents were murdered by the Nazis. How can I react to these comments? They're very painful. This is a personal insult to every Israeli."
The Bush Administration and the three presidential candidates should follow the lead set by Florida Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has spoken out against both Ziegler's and Falk's appointments. So far the White House and State Department have been quiet on the matter, but it is time for the silence to be broken. Princeton alumni should also make their voices heard, calling on their alma mater to reject Professor Falk's inflammatory comments on Israel, expressing their displeasure with Princeton's name being associated with such an extreme position.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon should also speak on the issue, and state that these appointments undermine the credibility (admittedly thin already) and the overall standing of the United Nations. While his predecessor Kofi Annan was as meek as a mouse on human rights issues, Ban should not be afraid to address the UN's failings in this area.
The rise of Falk and Ziegler in the UN's human rights apparatus serve as an important reminder of how the UN has fundamentally lost its way and has largely thrown out its moral compass. It is important that the United States, which hands over more than $5.3 billion a year to the United Nations, demands accountability and takes a stand on the appointment to UN bodies of individuals who are a blot on the organization and whose extremist views are an affront to American values.
Nile Gardiner is the Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Weekly Standard