- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 9, 2004

One of Sen. John Kerry’s central foreign policy complaints is that President Bush has refused to give the United Nations more responsibility in Iraq. But Mr. Bush has good reason to be wary because the United Nations has become a dysfunctional institution. One example that deserves more attention than it has received to date is that of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR). On Tuesday, the United States walked out to protest a decision by the United Nations Economic and Social Council to give Sudan, one of the world’s worst human-rights violators, a third term on the UNHCHR. Last month, the commission backed a resolution submitted by European countries calling for a death-penalty moratorium — an implicit slap at the United States. Members passed five resolutions condemning Israel and took several hours out of their busy schedule to mourn the assassination of Hamas terrorist boss Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

But when it came to the Iranian government’s brutal treatment of its own citizens, the UNHCHR stood mute. At this year’s session, which concluded in Geneva late last month, the organization declined to rebuke the Iranian government for violating human rights, despite a large body of evidence that it has engaged in summary executions, torture, and arbitrary arrests and detention.

In January, U.N. special investigator Ambeyi Ligabo, a Kenyan diplomat, issued a report documenting the cases of journalists and intellectuals who have received severe punishment for criticizing the Islamist government and clerical leadership that controls the country. Mr. Ligabo noted the case of Hashem Aghajari, a history professor in Tehran, who was arrested in August 2002 for a speech given two months earlier titled “Islamic Protestantism.” Last November, Mr. Aghajari was sentenced to 74 lashes and death on charges of insulting Islam, apostasy and heresy. A journalist named Abbas Abdi was sentenced to eight years in jail after his November 2002 arrest following publication of a poll indicating that Iranians overwhelmingly support a resumption of relations with the United States. Journalist and film historian Siamak Pourzand, 75, has been chained to his bed at Modares Hospital in Tehran. Mr. Pourzand, who is barely able to walk following a March heart attack, is in jail for “undermining state security” by consorting with “monarchists and counterrevolutionaries.”

But even though Mr. Ligabo documented these and other cases in his report, the UNHCHR has ignored his findings and refused to condemn the Iranian government. Given the abysmal performance of U.N. institutions like the Human Rights Commission in advancing the cause of freedom in places like Iran, why is Mr. Kerry so confident that they’ll function any better in Iraq?

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