Thursday, October 12, 2006
A MAJOR piece of the United Nations reform promised by Secretary General Kofi Annan was a new Human Rights Council. The idea was to replace the Commission on Human Rights, which had been hijacked by rogue states such as Libya and Sudan, with a body that could refocus attention on serious human rights violations around the world -- and in so doing remove what Mr. Annan said was "the shadow" cast by the old organization on "the United Nations system as a whole."
When the Human Rights Council was approved by the General Assembly in March, we were among the skeptics who doubted that it would be much of a change, mainly because the membership rules still allowed for the election of human rights violators. As it turned out, we were wrong: The council, which completed its second formal session last week in Geneva, has turned out to be far worse than its predecessor -- not just a "shadow" but a travesty that the United Nations can ill afford.
For all its faults, the previous U.N. commission occasionally discussed and condemned the regimes most responsible for human rights crimes, such as those in Belarus and Burma. China used to feel compelled to burnish its record before the annual meeting. The new council, in contrast, has so far taken action on only one country, which has dominated the debate at both of its regular meetings and been the sole subject of two extraordinary sessions: Israel.
Western human rights groups sought to focus the council's attention on Darfur, where genocide is occurring, and on Uzbekistan, where a dictator refuses to allow the investigation of a massacre by his security forces. Their efforts have been in vain. Instead, the council has treated itself to report after report on the alleged crimes of the Jewish state; in all, there were six official "rapporteurs" on that subject in the latest session alone. One, Jean Ziegler, is supposed to report on "the right to food." But he, too, delivered a diatribe on Israeli "crimes" in Lebanon.
This ludicrous diplomatic lynch mob has been directed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which accounts for 17 governments on the 47-member council and counts on the support of like-minded dictatorships such as Cuba and China. Council rules allow an extraordinary session to be called at the behest of just one-third of the membership, making it easy for the Islamic association to orchestrate anti-Israel spectacles. Several Muslim governments that boast of a new commitment to democracy and human rights -- including Jordan and Morocco -- have readily joined in this willful sabotage of those values.
Human rights groups that supported the creation of the council, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, admit to being appalled by the outcome; they nevertheless argue that the panel should be given time to right itself. That could happen, they say, if the democratic members of the council organize and work with the same cohesion as the "unfree" states. They also suggest that the United States, which refused to join the council, reconsider.
Perhaps that strategy would work -- though once again, we're skeptical. If there is no turnaround, the council's performance ought to invite consideration of the measure that was applied to the U.N. cultural organization, UNESCO, when it ran amok in the 1980s: a cutoff of U.S. funding. If this ill-formed body is to become an exclusive forum for anti-Zionist rants, the principal victim will be not Israel but the United Nations.