- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should be commended for raising a central flaw about the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during her speech about the Libyan crisis in Geneva last week. Mrs. Clinton criticized “the structural bias against Israel - including a standing agenda item for Israel, whereas all other countries are treated under a common item - is wrong. And it undermines the important work we are trying to do together. As member states, we can take this council in a better, stronger direction,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton is right. Slapping around Israel is a year-round sport for diplomats with that beautiful view of the Alps and Lake Geneva. Take November, for example: The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted nine resolutions against Israel. A typical speech from the guardians of human rights was reflected in this quote from the Syrian delegate: “There is no other terrorism on the surface of the planet like the terrorism committed by Israel. … This entity was established on the basis of terrorism.”

Interestingly, there is no record of the American ambassador rising to publicly defend Israel before the UNHRC - where the U.S. vote is worth no more than, for example, Iran‘s. What would be the point? The United States is in no position to fix a vessel that is broken beyond repair. It is not just because of the omnipresent anti-Zionist diplomatic Muzak that drowns out any sane discourse on the Middle East. The United Nations Human Rights Council was and remains an old boys’ club of regimes adamantly committed to squelch any voices raised on behalf of freedom and human dignity. Despite the United States’ return to the UNHRC, nothing has changed. And how could it when the real power behind the UNHRC is a cabal led by Tehran, Caracas, Havana, Beijing and - until a few days ago - Tripoli?

Is this an institution capable of real change and reform? Don’t hold your breath. The United Nations Watch reported that the UNHRC - even as it suspended Libya - was still scheduled to vote on a resolution praising the human rights record of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. While that vote has now been shelved, it is worthwhile taking a look at what diplomats had to say. According to U.N. Watch, those on record included Iran, Venezuela, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cuba, (Hosni Mubarak’s) Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan.

North Korea praised Libya for its achievements in the protection of human rights. Saudi Arabia commended Tripoli’s achievements in its constitutional, legislative and institutional frameworks, which showed the importance that the country attached to human rights. Syria commended Libya for its democratic regime based on promoting the people’s authority, which enhanced development and respect for human rights. Pakistan noted with appreciation that Libya was a party to most of the core human rights treaties.

And from Morocco: It commended Col. Gadhafi’s government for its promotion of human rights education, particularly for security personnel.Before the people’s revolt against Col. Gadhafi, such rhetoric could be discounted as not being worth the diplomatic paper it was written on. Now, with the blood of innocents flowing in the streets of Benghazi and Tripoli, the UNHRC itself should stand indicted for protecting tyranny and tyrants.

And the moral rot extends beyond the Human Rights Council. No sooner had Libya been suspended from the UNHRC than the U.N. announced it was inviting the Islamic Republic of Iran to join its Commission on the Status of Women.

Barack Obama was elected under the mantle of “change.” As president, he must have been convinced he could bring about behavioral change at the U.N. Human Rights Council by returning the United States as a voting member. But it is crystal clear that despite Mrs. Clinton’s best efforts, the United Nations Human Rights Council will never change. Its unspoken core mission remains to protect its members from the sting of international condemnation for their human rights failings.

Forget Geneva. The world needs the United States to reassert its moral leadership on human rights, not backroom deals with serial human rights abusers. We desperately need new ways to help activists silenced by Tehran and Pyongyang and those millions of people - from North Africa to the Persian Gulf and beyond - who will be silenced no more.

How about starting with a new global address and a clean slate, headed not by cynical bureaucrats but a who’s who of Nobel Peace Prize winners? In a world increasingly dominated by the power of social networking and other Internet technologies, Washington and like-minded democracies should start building a dynamic, virtual bully pulpit to counter the UNHRC, where the medium empowers the message of hope for human dignity.

That would be a change every freedom-loving person can believe in.

Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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