- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Sudan, according to the Human Rights Watch 2001 report, is a world leader in the abuse of human rights. It says the international organization was denied a temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council last October because of its "human rights record of gross abuses." Again, according to the same source, the abuses conducted by the government include: "torture; arbitrary searches and arrests; protracted arbitrary detention without judicial review; the press-gang military recruitment of young men and underage boys from buses and public places." The same report also notes that "women received summary justice in these (Public Order Courts) often followed immediately by flogging, without effective right to appeal." Then, there is religious persecution of Christians; and the slavery and sexual abuse of children to which the government has subjected its opponents.

Nevertheless the United Nations, last week, removed the United States from its membership on the United Nations´ Human Rights Commission, and replaced it with Sudan. This is not the international body´s first visit to the theater of the absurd. On Nov. 10, 1975, for example, the U.N. General Assembly determined that Zionism is a form of racism. The 1975 move represented a diplomatic coup for its Soviet supporters. Twenty-six years later China led the anti-U.S. march that substituted Sudan for the United States as a member of the Human Rights Commission and thus removed its major critic on that body-the United States.

How this performance was orchestrated is not yet clear. But press reports from several sources agreed that the Bush administration´s support for missile defense, its opposition to the 1997 Kyoto treaty on global warming and the previous administration´s opposition to an international ban on landmines were effective instruments in the lobbying effort that removed the world´s strongest defender and advocate of human rights from the U.N. commission.

One of the lesser-known effects of the Kyoto treaty on the environment was a provision that governed emissions from our armed forces as they trained or conducted unilateral operations, like Panama, but would not apply to multilateral operations, like Desert Storm. These emissions would have been counted against the total allowed to the United States. The Bush administration reasonably noted that its objection to Kyoto was based on the extraordinary financial burden of complying with the overall emission standards. But it is equally true that collaring the world´s largest armed defender of human rights and democracy restricts both America´s ability to defend itself and its democratic allies.

Similar arguments apply to land mines and missile defenses. Both are military instruments whose existence one Democratic and another, its successor Republican administration, believe to be in the nation´s interest of defending itself.

The right to life including the self-defense that is required to defend this right is protected by the U.N.´s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 of theat declaration defines itself. The article states that "everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person." That the United States should be voted off the U.N.´s Human Rights Commission because of members´ pique at measures we take to protect the most basic human right-to life-is an exercise in the kind of absurdity that Americans should once again become accustomed to expect from the U.N. The effort to treat the US-on environmental and self-defense grounds as simply another member nation is also a profound statement that denies our unique role as the world´s most vibrant economy and preeminent defender of democracy, free government, and yes, human rights.

If defending oneself is to become something that merits removal from a commission on human rights, the United States should either absent itself from such oxymoronic activity or remind the U.N. that the basis of human rights is the universal desire for life, liberty, and the ability to improve one´s condition. There is no human right to food, transportation, a job, or any of the other desirables that one must take from another to provide for those who do not have. Or put another way, all of us have a right to own a car, but this doesn´t mean that the government or anyone else has an obligation to give us one. If such a "right" existed, it would mean that those who feel needy can take as they please. The human rights that the United States and other modern democracies were established to uphold, recognize and respect individuals´ natural strivings: They do not exist to fulfill them.

The international community is groping its way towards concerted action, and the process is likely to take longer than a lifetime. It is important that the ideas at the center of whatever instruments gain legitimacy over the long run be sound. If we are to remain part of this process, it is as critical to articulate the basis of this democracy´s respect for human rights as it is to engage international bodies so as to prevent the nonsense to which the U.N. has once again shown itself to be vulnerable.


Seth Cropsey is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He served in the Reagan and first Bush administrations.


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