December 29, 2008
By Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.
Sixty years ago this month, the United Nations adopted the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which some have dubbed a
Magna Carta for mankind. Coming on the heels of World War II, the
Declaration was supposed to show the world that the United Nations
would not tolerate the terrible abuses of human rights committed by
the Nazis and Axis powers.
Unfortunately, the Declaration hasn't worked out as well as the
Magna Carta. It has been ignored, stretched in some cases beyond
any real meaning and even used to justify the very practices it was
meant to condemn. The United Nations' new human rights body, the
Human Rights Council, has sadly sunk to little more than a
protection racket for the world's worst human rights abusers.
The litany of charges against the Human Rights Council is long.
From its inaugural meeting in June 2006, the council has condemned
North Korea only once and Myanmar four times, while completely
ignoring abuses in China, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and
Libya. However, it found time to condemn Israel 20 times for
purported human rights abuses.
The world's worst regimes often get a pass by the council. This
year, it eliminated its official human rights monitors for a number
of human rights-abusing countries. On the get-out-of-jail-free list
are countries that routinely persecute political prisoners (Belarus
and Cuba) and homosexuals (Iran), and perpetuate mass rape and
murder (Congo). One of these countries - Sudan - has gone so far as
to commit genocide on its own people.
This is apparently how the council defines progress in human
If these actions were not enough to discredit the council, it
decided to appoint to its expert staff Jean Ziegler, the co-founder
of the "Moammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize." Another appointment
was Richard Falk, who apparently thinks that the Sept. 11 attacks
were the result of a U.S. government conspiracy. It says volumes
about the nations and bureaucrats who control the council that
people with these views are considered experts.
There is no more of a telltale example of the U.N.'s Orwellian
human rights thinking than its infamous Durban Conference on
Racism. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell ordered the U.S.
delegation to walk out of this anti-Semitic forum in 2001.
It's making a comeback. The council is organizing a Durban
Review Conference in April in Geneva, and we can expect it to
repeat its dirty work, focusing its wrath mainly on Israel.
The historical hypocrisy of the Durban Conference is
breathtaking. The United Nations was established in the wake of the
Holocaust of World War II to prevent racial prejudice and
international conflict. Now you have a U.N. conference not only
stirring up that same racial hatred, but threatening the peace.
There is really only one way to stop this charade: Ignore the
Human Rights Council and find alternatives to establish and monitor
real human rights standards.
The United States should consider launching with like-minded
countries a Liberty Forum for Human Rights. It would provide a
venue for countries to discuss and better understand critical
linkages of freedom, good governance, the rule of law, human rights
and security, and political freedoms.
The Liberty Forum should have strict membership criteria. We
should demand more from a member than merely having a seat in the
U.N. General Assembly. Nations invited to the Liberty Forum should
only be those that do not discriminate along racial, ethnic, gender
or religious lines in allowing citizens to enjoy the right to life,
liberty and property. Members should be democracies and committed
to impartial justice and the rule of law.
The Liberty Forum should be more than a talk shop. In addition
to defining human rights more clearly, it could coordinate joint
sanctions against nations that abuse these rights. It could also
provide assistance to nations that want to improve their human
Some will argue that nations with the poorest human rights
records will ignore the decisions of such a body and resent being
judged by democratic nations. Yes, some regimes will feel that way.
But their suffering people will not. And it is they, not their
masters, who ultimately count.
The Human Rights Council will not go away overnight. But unlike
Karl Marx's prediction for the capitalist state, it might just
wither away out of misuse. The suffering people of the world need
moral clarity, not double talk from clever international
bureaucrats. They need a values forum that truly stands up for
Holmes, a former assistant secretary of state, is a vice
president at the Heritage Foundation and author of "Liberty's Best
Hope: American Leadership for the 21st Century" (2008).
First Appeared in The Washington Times
Sixty years ago this month, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which some have dubbed a Magna Carta for mankind. Coming on the heels of World War II, the Declaration was supposed to show the world that the United Nations would not tolerate the terrible abuses of human rights committed by the Nazis and Axis powers.
Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.
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