Once again, the United Nations is taking a position in support of the worst violators of human rights. The U.N. Human Rights Council, the body that acts as if it had a mandate to promote despotism, has a record of consistency on this subject, regularly lavishing praise on tyrannical regimes while spending its time and considerable resources attacking a few carefully selected democracies.
This time, The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights has tacitly sided with the government of China, quietly boycotting the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony honoring the imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
When the Nobel Committee announced that it had selected Liu, the 54-year-old human rights and democracy activist, Chinese officials cried foul. They complained of interference with the country’s internal affairs and quickly placed Liu’s wife under house arrest. Beijing launched a massive campaign to smear the honoree and to sabotage the awards ceremony.
They called Liu a common criminal and, in a country where most people had never heard of him, insisted that most other nations agreed with Beijing’s view of their prisoner of conscience. Watching the U.N. Commissioner’s decision, the Chinese public may think their government was telling the truth. China leveraged its considerable economic and political power, exerting enormous pressure on other nations to boycott the ceremony, and threatening “consequences” if they attended the event in Oslo.
Some 20 countries gave in to Chinese pressure. So did Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay. She is arguably the world’s foremost representative on the subject of human rights.
If Pillay won’t stand up for human-rights dissidents, the position might as well remain unfilled. In fact, that is the case with the entire U.N. human-rights effort. The council itself is a travesty, a venue for mutual praise among despots, bordering on the obscene. Taxpayers the world over should demand a refund.
Not surprisingly, Commissioner Pillay denies that she has given in to pressure from China. Initially, she claimed she could not attend because of her duties at a ceremony marking Human Rights Day. After the watchdog group U.N. Watch castigated her for “kowtowing” to Beijing, a U.N. spokesman claimed she had never been invited to the Nobel ceremony in the first place.
According to the Nobel Committee, Pillay indeed declined to attend. But Hillel Neuer, the head of U.N. Watch, argues that, “Even if she never received the invitation, there’s no question that she could have chosen to go.” Neuer says Pillay’s decision to skip the ceremony sends the message “that Chinese political power trumps human rights.”
I think the message it sends is different. Pillay’s absence reinforces a message we receive from the United Nations in Geneva on a regular basis: that the United Nations is a miserable failure when it comes to defending human rights.
Any doubts about the organization’s pathetic performance are easily dispelled by watching the council in action.
A recent session saw priceless moments in the history of human rights, such as the spectacle of a Syrian envoy undoing himself in praise for the fabulous job that the government of Libya has done for human rights in its country. One could hardly expect Syria, a repressive regime run by an inherited dictatorship, to challenge the deeds of Libya, a despotic government run by the longest-serving head of state in the world. That routine review of Libya’s human-rights record continued, with representatives from a series of other dictatorships sharing in the accolades for Tripoli.
The United States, by the way, was lectured by the council. The UNHRC offered no fewer than 238 recommendations for how this country might improve its defective human-rights record.
That’s par for the council’s course. The body is all but controlled by the 56-member nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. As a bloc, the group focuses the council on obsessive condemnation of Israel and occasionally the United States, while mostly ignoring most other violations.
Pillay, who has been strangely silent on the imprisonment of dissidents in China, has much to say on America’s shortcomings. Heuer says she should have traveled to Oslo and held a press conference highlighting the systematic denial of rights for Chinese citizens. Instead, she has issued some bland generic calls for the freeing of political prisoners, without naming names, without offending anyone.
It was a display of cowardice worthy of the U.N.’s consistently shameful performance on human rights.