Imagine a tribunal where governments appear to face the world’s judgment on their respect for human rights. Now imagine Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya sitting on that tribunal. It sounds absurd. But it is the true picture of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
World leaders display something of a “who, me?” attitude, as if they only discovered Gadhafi’s viciousness in the past few weeks, after he responded to calls for democracy by slaughtering his own people. But Gadhafi’s outrages, not just his buffoonery, have been well known for decades. And yet, on May 13, 2010 — less than a year ago — the United Nations elected Libya to the UNHRC. An astonishing 155 countries, 80 percent of the U.N. members, supported Libya’s bid. Nobody, not the United States, not Britain, not France, Sweden, Norway or any other of the countries that claim high moral standing spoke against the decision.
On March 1, suddenly stirring up from its Orwellian stupor, the U.N. suspended Libya from the human-rights body. By then, the Security Council had already noted that Gadhafi’s actions “may amount to crimes against humanity.”
The international community, the U.N. system, and nations in a position of global leadership, such as the United States, have displayed a baffling willingness to go along with the affronts to common sense and basic morality that have become routine at the UNHRC and other parts of the U.N. system. Obscenities such as Libya’s finally suspended membership in the Council, continues unabated, with their full knowledge and complicity.
Only days ago, as U.N. members stopped averting their eyes from Libya’s presence in the human-rights body, the Islamic Republic of Iran took its seat on the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, a body “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women.”
What can you say about Iran and its treatment of women? There’s Article 630 of Iran’s criminal code, which allows a man to kill his wife if she is unfaithful. In court, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man. Women are not allowed to divorce their husbands, for example, and they are required by law to always wear head covers and cloaks in public. As it happens, Iran does not have the worst record on women’s rights on the CSW. Saudi Arabia, where conditions are far, far worse for women, also sits on the Commission.
Saudi Arabia also sits on the Human Rights Council, along with other luminaries of oppression. That helps explain why the UNHRC, instead of working to protect human rights, has turned into a body devoted to the protection of human rights abusers.
Just imagine, the UNHRC’s agenda for March 18 called for it to adopt a report about Gadhafi’s Libya, in which the regime received lavish praise on its human rights record from countries including North Korea, Syria, Myanmar (Burma), Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and others. You could not make this up. Nobody would believe it.
The U.N. system is set up in such a way that repressive, undemocratic regimes wield enormous power. This affects many aspects of its work, but is most egregious in the UNHRC, where the organization generally divides its time between condemning Israel and praising tyrants.
The UNHRC payroll includes Libya’s Najat al-Hajaji, chosen to investigate — get this — the victims of mercenaries. Hajaji has a close relationship with Gadhafi, who today uses mercenaries to crush the opposition. Another astonishing UNHRC choice is Jean Ziegler, a special rapporteur on food issues. Ziegler, a fervent anti-American, co-founded the Moammar Gadhafi Human Rights prize, and won it in 2002. Then there is the UNHRC Palestinian expert, Richard Falk. Falk believes 9/11 was a U.S. plot, and has openly supported other 9/11 conspiracy theorists. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon recently condemned Falk’s “affront to the memory” of 9/11 victims.
The list goes on. The pernicious actions go on. The outrages against victims of torture and abuse go on. The mockery of human rights and women’s rights goes on. The praise of dictators goes on. The neglect of important issues continues.
One might think Libya was a wake-up call, but we know the world was not asleep. The world was awake, watching and doing nothing.