The world's worst human rights offenders have hijacked the U.N. Human Rights Council. Israel isn't going to put up with it any more.
- By Danny AyalonDanny Ayalon is Israel's deputy minister of foreign affairs.
George Orwell, in his seminal essay "Politics and the English Language," penned a scathing attack on what he termed "meaningless words." These terms, he said, "are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different."
Orwell’s description could equally apply to many who sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Never has a term been so misused and appropriated than in this body, bearing the term "human rights," which promised so much and delivered so little. Last week, the council once again showed its disdain for human rights by ignoring real ongoing abuses worldwide and instead focused on investigating Israel, a habitual obsession of the UNHRC.
Only 20 of the 47 nations on the UNHRC, a minority, are considered "free" by the independent NGO Freedom House. The majority of nations currently represented on this self-styled "human rights" body do not allow basic freedoms for their own people, let alone concern themselves with global civil liberties.
The current roster of the UNHRC is a virtual who’s who of global human rights offenders: It includes Cuba and Saudi Arabia — not to mention Mauritania, where modern-day slavery is an entrenched phenomenon. Last year, while Libyan despot Muammar al-Qaddafi was massacring his own people, the Human Rights Council drafted a report full of praise for the former dictator’s regime for its "protection of human rights."
In fact, many repressive countries seek a seat on the council — not to advance the vision of Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the committee that drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — but to serve as a barrier against the possibility of investigation and condemnation. It’s a strategy that has worked well for countries like Saudi Arabia, where there is no freedom of religion, protections for minorities, or women’s rights.
It is in this theater of the absurd that Israel was once again singled out last week for an investigation into Israeli communities in the West Bank, another opportunity for the Palestinians and their non-democratic supporters to commandeer the agenda as part of their diplomatic front against the Jewish state. This is a continuation of a policy that has seen 46 out of a total of 82 country-specific decisions directed against Israel. Meanwhile, there have been no investigations or decisions made against the likes of Saudi Arabia or Cuba.
This latest diplomatic attack on Israel has done no more justice to the discredited body. After all, there’s no clearer sign that the UNHRC has lost the moral high ground than when the Syrian representative takes time out from defending the Assad regime’s massacre of its own people to attack Israel.
It gets worse. The U.N. special rapporteur for Israel and the territories is none other than Richard Falk, an American professor, who has promoted conspiracy theories about the Sept.11 attacks on the United States. These outrages prompted U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to say that Falk "should no longer continue in his position on behalf of the U.N." Falk, however, remains in his position. The problem is that, of the 10 appointed UNHRC rapporteurs, only Falk’s one-sided mandate is not renewed annually.
Israel’s policy towards the UNHRC has previously been one of engagement and cooperation, as can be demonstrated by the many special rapporteurs who have visited Israel on a regular basis and have been received by high-level Israeli officials. However, the decision to launch the fifth anti-Israel investigation, out of only eight such country-specific investigations in its short history, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Our government had little choice but to withdraw its cooperation with this council and no longer take part in its hijacked agenda.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro was quoted as saying that he understands Israel’s decision taken against a council that "obsessively focuses" on Israel.
The warnings were there for all to see. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a reform of the UNHRC’s predecessor, the U.N Commission on Human Rights, because there was a "disproportionate focus on violations by Israel." Unfortunately, the council has fared no better, prompting current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to express his disappointment "at the council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world."
Israel will continue to cooperate with U.N. inquiries whose mandate does not already confer guilt even before the investigation begins, like the recent UNHRC inquiry and the now-discredited Goldstone Commission have done. As it is, the attacks on Israel are merely a symptom of the malaise that afflicts the Human Rights Council — but what can one expect out of a body that is made up of some of the least free countries on the planet?
Perhaps it is time to establish a new organization that more faithfully adheres to a true human rights agenda. Democracies should reassess their participation in a council that places political calculations over the protection of human rights, while providing cover to some of the world’s most brutal regimes.
The United Nations should be giving a voice to the oppressed, justice to the abused, and equity for all of humanity. None of this will be achieved by always attacking and condemning Israel while allowing totalitarian nations to hijack the international human rights agenda.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |