Sixty years ago this month, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which some have dubbed a Magna Carta for mankind. Coming on the heels of World War II, the Declaration was supposed to show the world that the United Nations would not tolerate the terrible abuses of human rights committed by the Nazis and Axis powers.
Unfortunately, the Declaration hasn’t worked out as well as the Magna Carta. It has been ignored, stretched in some cases beyond any real meaning and even used to justify the very practices it was meant to condemn. The United Nations’ new human rights body, the Human Rights Council, has sadly sunk to little more than a protection racket for the world’s worst human rights abusers.
The litany of charges against the Human Rights Council is long. From its inaugural meeting in June 2006, the council has condemned North Korea only once and Myanmar four times, while completely ignoring abuses in China, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Libya. However, it found time to condemn Israel 20 times for purported human rights abuses.
The world’s worst regimes often get a pass by the council. This year, it eliminated its official human rights monitors for a number of human rights–abusing countries. On the get-out-of-jail-free list are countries that routinely persecute political prisoners (Belarus and Cuba) and homosexuals (Iran), and perpetuate mass rape and murder (Congo). One of these countries - Sudan - has gone so far as to commit genocide on its own people.
This is apparently how the council defines progress in human rights.
If these actions were not enough to discredit the council, it decided to appoint to its expert staff Jean Ziegler, the co-founder of the “Moammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize.” Another appointment was Richard Falk, who apparently thinks that the Sept. 11 attacks were the result of a U.S. government conspiracy. It says volumes about the nations and bureaucrats who control the council that people with these views are considered experts.
There is no more of a telltale example of the U.N.’s Orwellian human rights thinking than its infamous Durban Conference on Racism. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell ordered the U.S. delegation to walk out of this anti-Semitic forum in 2001.
It’s making a comeback. The council is organizing a Durban Review Conference in April in Geneva, and we can expect it to repeat its dirty work, focusing its wrath mainly on Israel.
The historical hypocrisy of the Durban Conference is breathtaking. The United Nations was established in the wake of the Holocaust of World War II to prevent racial prejudice and international conflict. Now you have a U.N. conference not only stirring up that same racial hatred, but threatening the peace.
There is really only one way to stop this charade: Ignore the Human Rights Council and find alternatives to establish and monitor real human rights standards.
The United States should consider launching with like-minded countries a Liberty Forum for Human Rights. It would provide a venue for countries to discuss and better understand critical linkages of freedom, good governance, the rule of law, human rights and security, and political freedoms.
The Liberty Forum should have strict membership criteria. We should demand more from a member than merely having a seat in the U.N. General Assembly. Nations invited to the Liberty Forum should only be those that do not discriminate along racial, ethnic, gender or religious lines in allowing citizens to enjoy the right to life, liberty and property. Members should be democracies and committed to impartial justice and the rule of law.
The Liberty Forum should be more than a talk shop. In addition to defining human rights more clearly, it could coordinate joint sanctions against nations that abuse these rights. It could also provide assistance to nations that want to improve their human rights records.
Some will argue that nations with the poorest human rights records will ignore the decisions of such a body and resent being judged by democratic nations. Yes, some regimes will feel that way. But their suffering people will not. And it is they, not their masters, who ultimately count.
The Human Rights Council will not go away overnight. But unlike Karl Marx’s prediction for the capitalist state, it might just wither away out of misuse. The suffering people of the world need moral clarity, not double talk from clever international bureaucrats. They need a values forum that truly stands up for freedom.
• Kim R. Holmes is vice president for foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation and author of “Liberty’s Best Hope: American Leadership for the 21st Century.”