- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

With the human-rights file on Sudan closed, with Cuba essentially getting a pass despite its jailing and mistreatment of 74 dissidents, with Zimbabwe escaping from the list of countries requiring special observation, and without any mention of human rights violations in Chechnya, it is little wonder that editorialists argue that the United States should get out of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
  
  Thus, The Washington Post on April 18 opined in its lead editorial, “If the Commission [chaired by Libya] is going to continue to act against the interests of the world’s weak and persecuted, we ought not to lend it any further credibility.” Walking out is offered as the solution.
  
  The trouble is that, if we pick up our marbles and go away, the commission still continues to function in its nasty way. Countries like Israel that have been subjected to the worst calumny and accused of “Nazilike practices” will have no one with the valiant exception of Germany at this year’s session to stand up for them. Israel’s ambassador, Yaakov Levy, has said that, when he addresses the commission, he tries to look at the delegates as individuals, many of them young people, many of them unaware of the facts, as an opportunity to set the record straight, or at least to present another side of the picture to which they would otherwise not be exposed.
  
  Participation creates a special dilemma for the United States. Last year, it was booted off in a secret ballot in which the U.S. for the first time in the commission’s 55-year history did not gain a seat. Instead the body, which is supposed to be the U.N.’s premier organ for dealing with human-rights violations around the world, granted that seat to Syria. The chairmanship went to Libya. Faced with that unpalatable outcome, the U.S. government decided to withdraw its participation. However, when re-elected this last year, the issue became whether to send a U.S. emissary of relatively low diplomatic stature or to send a big gun. It was decided on the latter, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick was selected for the task.
  
  Was it worth the candle? Did we squander a valued national resource by dignifying a body which required only a slap from the back of the hand? To judge what in fact occurred, it is necessary to take into account what is not generally known: the unheralded diplomatic successes scored against the record of what could not be achieved.
  
  Two days after the start of the Iraq war, when success seemed still distant, a special session was called for under the banner of humanitarian concerns to call for a cease-fire. This would essentially have given a victory to Saddam Hussein, or at the least have made diplomatic life for the United States all the more difficult. Mrs. Kirkpatrick deftly handled the diplomacy with letters to the members of the African Union calling directly for their support, with notification to all the other delegates of the actual strength of those forces supporting the United States, militarily and otherwise, and through a variety of other means.
  
  Granted, this is not exciting stuff to make the front pages of any newspaper, especially when bullets are flying. But, it can have a critical impact. Keep in mind first what the word “cease-fire” means. Cease-fire is what the omnibus eight-page U.N. Security Council resolution 687 of April 3, 1991, called for, and it bought the Iraqis more than 12 years of time, despite the resolution’s repeated call for unconditional and immediate destruction of weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons.
  
  Undoubtedly, the Arab League, meeting in Cairo two days after the start of the war, had something along these lines in mind when it voted in favor of a cease-fire resolution. That exercise didn’t go anywhere until someone had the clever idea of bringing the show to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva. It had already been addressed by various foreign ministers, including those of France and Germany. It seemed like an ideal locale to launch the effort of a cease-fire as, unlike the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. would not be in a position to exercise its veto, and U.N. legitimacy could then be claimed in favor of a cease-fire.
  
  Syria and Cuba spearheaded the effort, joined by Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malaysia, Libya, Sudan, Burkina Faso and, surprisingly, Russia. On March 26, it introduced its resolution calling for a special emergency session to consider “Human Rights and Humanitarian Consequences of the Military Action Against Iraq.” The body of the text made clear, however, that the resolution had nothing to do with humanitarian concerns, as the operative paragraphs condemned the coalition action as “clearly in violation of the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter,” and called for “an immediate end to the unilateral military action against Iraq.”
  
  The night before the anticipated vote, the likely tally did not look good. Latin American countries that the U.S. could usually count on for support Venezuela and Brazil were now lined up squarely in the opposite corner. Others like Costa Rica and Mexico were being pressured to distance themselves. Newer friends like Croatia and Ukraine also seemed uncertain in their vote.
  
  Under Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s leadership, the United States not only went to the delegates themselves, but also made demarches in capitals trying to make clear how important the outcome of this vote would be. When the vote on the resolution was called for on March 27, the European Union stood firmly with the United States. Germany, the chairman of WEOG (the Western European and Others Group) exercised a decisive leadership role. In Africa, the Cameroons and Uganda broke ranks with the African Union to vote against the resolution; Senegal, Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo abstained. Swaziland and Sierra Leone decided to absent themselves from that day’s business. Ukraine did likewise. Thailand, despite pressure from the Asian bloc, voted resoundingly No.
  
  The final tally was 25 against the resolution, 18 in favor, and 7 abstentions. It was a big victory for the United States, although one that went practically unnoticed by the international press. It was too busy covering skirmishes in Iraq to notice what was going on in the posh surroundings of Lake Geneva in the old halls of the League of Nations.
  
  
  
  Allan Gerson, an international lawyer and coauthor of “The Price of Terror” (HarperCollins 2001), was a senior adviser on this year’s U.S. delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

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