- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2001

The recent votes by the United Nations to deny the United States its historic place on the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the booting of a U.S. representative from the U.N.s International Narcotics Control Board raise serious questions about whether the United States can put its faith in the United Nations capacity to effectively advance a better world.
The vote to exclude the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Commission while voting in such tyrannies as China, Sudan, Cuba and Vietnam makes clear the degree of politicization of the international body. Objectively, despite its many problems, the United States is among the worlds most open societies with a strong system of democratic governance rooted in the rule of law. The United States also devotes more resources than any other country to monitoring and investigating human rights abuses around the world through the State Department annual human rights report, the report of the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom and through congressional bodies like the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Moreover, with its unmatched intelligence capabilities and scientific resources, and its extensive resources deployed in the cause of narcotics interdiction, there is no objective reason why the United States should have been excluded from the very U.N. body that is charged with coordinating international anti-drug efforts.
Yet in the end, these illogical votes, which have rightly outraged many Americans, do far less to damage the interests of the United States than to injure the effectiveness of the United Nations. Unfortunately, the problems at the United Nations go even deeper than the two recent anti-American votes would suggest.
A few weeks before the vote, the U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva yet again failed to endorse a U.S.-backed resolution criticizing China for its human rights violations. Indeed, even the successful resolutions condemning human rights violations (such as the bodys condemnation of Cubas and Irans human rights practices) usually passed by bare pluralities, often without a majority of the 53 commission members. This is hardly a surprise, when we keep in mind that a large proportion of the states represented at the commission are tyrannies.
This record of moral cupidity has continued despite the worthy efforts of the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. It clearly raises serious questions about the objectivity of the United Nations and reminds us of its failure to serve as an effective instrument for the advancement of democracy, freedom and human rights.
At the U.N. Economic and Social Commission (the same body that booted the United States off the human rights commission), anti-liberal and anti-libertarian values have gained ground in recent years, as a number of human rights and charitable organizations have been expelled or denied U.N. accreditation. Such organizations as Swiss-based Christian Solidarity International, the German-based International Organization of Human Rights, the writers organization PEN International and my organization, Freedom House, are among the reputable human rights groups that are routinely under attack by the tyrants bloc at the United Nations.
Unfortunately, because of the destructive efforts of a coalition of dictatorships, the United Nations has remained an exceedingly ineffective organization when it comes to real action on human rights. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to recall a significant U.N. role in any of the dozens of democratic transformations that have occurred around the world over the last 20 years. The truth is that most change that advances human rights comes from the courageous struggle of mass movements and civic forces. These movements rarely receive moral or material support from the U.N. system. Much assistance to such forces has come from direct assistance from private donors, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy and pro-democracy efforts of other democracies acting outside the stifling U.N. environment.
One might think that the poor record of the international community on human rights and democracy issues might lead to growing doubts among international and U.S. human rights groups about whether the United Nations can be trusted to effectively and dispassionately advance human rights.
Yet the overwhelming majority of U.S. and international human rights groups continue to sound a drumbeat for transferring significantly more legal authority to new international structures like the International Criminal Court. Indeed, instead of trying to understand the Clinton and Bush administrations healthy skepticism about the International Criminal Court, some human rights groups are now suggesting the recent setbacks to the United States are the result of Washingtons unwillingness to cooperate with the international community on international law.
Even as human rights groups like Human Rights Watch rightly point to the power of tyrannies at the U.N. Human Rights Commission, they see no danger of similar manipulations of an International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet a close look at the charter of the ICC shows that it replicates the flawed structure that has turned the U.N. Human Rights Commission into a feckless body.
Simply put, the setbacks suffered last week by the United States should put ideas like the international court on a very distant back burner. Such important initiatives simply should not even be considered until a cohesive coalition of democracies is functioning effectively at the United Nations and, most particularly, at the Human Rights Commission.
The roots of such a coalition already exist. In June 2000, foreign ministers from more than 100 governments issued the Warsaw Declaration of the Community of Democracies and urged the creation of a caucus of democracies at the United Nations. A steering committee has been established consisting of such free countries as the United States, India, Mexico, Chile, South Africa, Mali, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Poland and South Korea. This group should become the new locus of activism at the United Nations and other regional and global organizations. It should be seen by the United States as an important instrument for reinvigorating the United Nations and at last allowing it to fulfill its promise as a real force for freedom.
Until this democratic coalition is achieved, proposals to give the flawed U.N. system more authority over human rights issues is not only against the U.S. national interest, it is inimical to the cause of human rights itself.

Adrian Karatnycky is president of Freedom House.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide