U.N.’s Human Rights Council Shames Itself Further, If That’s Possible

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United Nations Building in New York, N.Y.

The U.N. General Assembly’s selection this week of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Vietnam, and Algeria to its Human Rights Council further tarnishes the U.N.’s reputation and reinforces the Council’s status as a laughingstock on human rights.

Moving forward, the Council surely will follow its well-worn path -- ignoring the brutal human rights violations of Council members while, at the same time, aiming its guns at Israel for human rights problems that pale in comparison to how China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the others treat their own people.

As facilitated by the General Assembly, the Council’s continuing displays of Orwellian logic and rank hypocrisy over human rights raise questions about U.S. President Barack Obama Administration’s efforts to reform the Council from within rather than, as George W. Bush’s Administration did, refuse to dignify it with cooperation.

The Council was established in 2006 as what was supposed to be a legitimate, upstanding successor to the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission (which had made itself a laughingstock in much the same way), but it has since proved an even bigger embarrassment.

As part of his initial efforts to differentiate himself from his “unilateralist” predecessor, President Obama decided in early 2009 that the United States would join the Council that, by then, was already notorious for protecting its members from serious human rights criticism and obsessing over the Jewish state.

Things have not improved. The Council’s permanent agenda, according to the dogged U.N. watcher Anne Bayefsky, includes “one item designated to the condemnation of Israel, and another to the remaining 192 UN members – if they should ‘require the Council’s attention.’” Every member gets to participate in one of the U.N.’s five regional bodies, except Israel.

Opening a Council session in late May, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay listed the countries with human rights crises that necessitated criticism as Syria, Myanmar, Iraq, the Central African Republic, the United States, and Israel.

Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, by contrast, were “progressing in different ways and at different speeds.”

Now, here come the new Council members – which Pillay had strangely, though not surprisingly, omitted from her list – bringing still more shame to the world’s most inappropriately named body.

And here’s what the State Department, in its 2013 human rights reports, says about them:

China: The authoritarian communist regime practices routine repression and coercion against “politically sensitive” individuals and groups. Citizens have no right to change their government and only limited rights of redress. The last year witnessed extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances and incommunicado detention; torture and coerced confessions; detention and harassment of lawyers, journalists, dissidents, and others; closed trials; forced abortion and forced sterilization; trafficking in people; and discrimination against women, minorities, and people with disabilities.

Russia: Vladimir Putin’s government restricts civil liberties by imposing harsh fines for unsanctioned meetings; identifying nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as “foreign agents” if they engage in “political activity” while receiving foreign funds; suspending “threatening” NGOs that have U.S. citizens and receive U.S. support; blocking Web sites without a court order; and pressuring media outlets to change their coverage or fire editors and reporters that criticize the government. The year also brought allegations of torture and excessive force by law enforcement officials; life-threatening prison conditions; restrictions on religious minorities; official corruption; limits on worker rights; trafficking in people; and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Saudi Arabia: The monarchy gives Saudis no right to change their government; widely restricts the freedoms of expression, including on the Internet, and of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and provides no equal rights for women, children, and expatriate workers. Human rights problems included torture; prison overcrowding; denial of due process; arbitrary arrest and detention; violence against women; trafficking in people; and discrimination based on gender, religion, sect, race, and ethnicity.

Cuba: Cuba’s communist government prohibits citizens from changing their government and engages in threats, intimidation, harassment, and detention to prevent free expression and peaceable assembly. It monitors private conversations; severely restricts Internet access; monopolizes media outlets; limits free movement; and constrains worker rights, such as by preventing them from forming independent unions.

Nor were Vietnam and Algeria, the other two questionable choices for Council seats, models of human rights. In the former, the government severely restricts political rights, increasingly limits civil liberties, and presides over a corrupt judiciary system and police. In the latter, the government restricts freedom of assembly and association, police use excessive force, women face violence, and workers have limited rights.

That a global Human Rights Council can welcome such human rights abusers with open arms not only defies logic. It casts a shadow over everything that this body, and the larger General Assembly, does.

Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and author of “Sound the Trumpet: The United States and Human Rights Promotion.” Follow him on Twitter @larryhaasonline.

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