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May 4, 2012

United Nations Human Rights Council: Not Really

Steve Gottlieb

Established in March 2006 as a replacement for the politically besieged United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council (Council) is, according to their website, responsible for promoting and protecting human rights along with investigating, addressing and making recommendations regarding complaints of violations.


The Council is made up of 47 member countries elected by the General Assembly and membership is geographically distributed, providing all world regions with fairly equal representation. All member nations serve for a period of three years and can serve two terms. Then they are ineligible for immediate re-election. They can be re-elected at a later time.


The mission of the Council sounds very noble. Certainly, all members would have spotless – or near spotless – human rights records. If nations are going to sit in judgment of other nations, they should uphold the highest ideals of human rights and be a model for other nations to emulate.


So, do the current members meet those standards? Let’s take a look.


A quick review of the members identifies a few countries that stand out as somehow falling short on being bastions of human rights. To start, the People’s Republic of China is a member. China, while being one of the world’s largest economies, was never known as a country where human rights were a primary concern. It is a communist country where freedom of speech and assembly are extremely curtailed. Elections are not open; and there is certainly a ruling elite that controls the country while most people live in poverty.


Another interesting member with a less than stellar record defending human rights is the Russian Federation. Even though they claim to be a democracy now and do hold elections, the media is controlled to a degree and their elections are reportedly filled with fraud and intimidation. Journalists are often jailed, or threatened, if stories are too critical of the government and in particular Vladimir Putin.


Libya is a member of the Council (they were suspended for a few months in 2011 and then reinstated). Remember, until last year Libya was ruled by Muammar Gaddafi. He was a ruthless dictator, who supported international terrorism and some believe had a connection to the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. It remains to be seen what will happen with human rights in Libya now that Gaddafi is gone. There is a lot of work to be done and there are no guarantees any improvement will be seen.


Another country historically intolerant of free expression of religion with membership on the Council is Saudi Arabia. As an Islamic country that is home to a very orthodox and arguably militant form of Islam, it allows the destruction of churches and doesn’t allow the practice of any religion other than Islam. Penalties for religious infractions are harsh and in some cases include death.


Uganda is another member with a history or human rights violations. The 2009 Amnesty International Report discusses how freedom of expression and freedom of the press are undermined by the government. Violence against women and girls persisted and people arrested by state security agents were tortured.


To be fair, there are member countries with better human rights records, but the point is the Council is not an organization with the credentials or impartiality to sit in judgment of other countries, not with member nations who are notorious in their own right for violating human rights.


There are some countries that because of prejudice are never allowed to be on the Council, even though their enemies are routinely members. Israel is not, nor will it ever be, voted a member. In fact it is frequently targeted by the Council for condemnation that despite the fact it is the only democratic country in the Middle East and ensures everyone is able to practice their religion under the protection of the government. All religious sites in Israel are considered sacred.


Things were so unfair with the Council that the United States, under the George W. Bush Administration, routinely boycotted its meetings. President Barack Obama chooses to attend even with the hypocrisy of council members.


The bottom line is the United Nations Human Rights Council is anything but an organization objectively protecting people around the world. It is a tool to further the agenda of third world or Islamic counties. There are no real criteria for being a member other than receiving a vote.


So, why is this important? According to the Heritage Foundation, the United States is the largest financial supporter of the United Nations. The U.S. is currently assessed 22 percent of the regular UN budget and 27 percent of the UN peacekeeping budget. That does not include contributions to other UN organizations, which reached over $6.34 billion in 2009. That is a lot of money and continues to be a line item in the budget every year.


With a world body and its subordinate organizations not objectively fulfilling its mission, the question becomes: “Should the U.S. continue its financial support and membership, especially given the tough economic times our country faces and the increasing deficit?


This is also a world body that increasingly is hostile to the United States, and the ideals set forth in our founding documents. Finally, this is a world body that wants to control what we do as a nation and determine from a world view what rights we should exercise.


Maybe the time to re-evaluate our support for the UN is here, and we should consider withdrawing our support. At the very least, we should reduce our financial contribution.


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