This story involves the UN Human Rights Council,
The Council, you must understand, is not a two-bit operation. It has sizeable headquarters in Geneva:
Reversing the policy of his predecessor, George Bush, who shunned the Council, Obama became the first president to seek membership for the US on the Council. As Bayefsky puts it, this was “the flagship of his UN-focused foreign policy.”
The reason given by the president for joining was to engage “from the inside” in the reform process that was going on at the Council. The Council had been established in 2006 to replace the thoroughly discredited Human Rights Commission, and was given five years to review its failings and make necessary corrections.
That five years has now come to an end, and the review process has turned out to be nothing but “an abysmal failure.”
The Council’s most blatant and egregious flaw has been its “standing agenda that governs all of its operations.” There are ten items on the agenda. “One is dedicated to condemning the state of Israel and one is for the remaining 191 UN countries that it might be interested in should it ever decide there was another ‘human rights situations that require[d] the Council’s attention.'”
The Council’s use of “its so-called human rights system to demonize the Jewish state has been a roaring success. Half of its special sessions on specific countries and half of all its resolutions and decisions critical of any state condemn Israel alone.”
“When President Obama joined the Council, it [the Council] promised that changing the discriminatory agenda would be their first priority. On Thursday, we discovered, it was a hoax.” (Emphasis added)
The review process had been taking place under the jurisdiction of a working group of all interested members of the UN. On Thursday, the working group adopted its report by consensus. The US was present. If we move past the “usual opaque UN language,” and look at it plain English, the consensus report states that it’s business as usual: the discriminatory agenda, adopted in June 2007, stands.
“Last year…the US delegation placed on the table its demands for reform…Agenda reform was top of the list.”
Read the US demand: “The most entrenched and indefensible manifestation of structural bias in this Council comes in the form of…the only agenda item devoted to one country…it is incumbent upon us…to do what is right to help the Council become more evenhanded and depoliticized.”
That demand was made available to the American public, but that’s as far as it went.
“…when the business-as-usual UN ‘reform’ report was approved late Thursday, the only thing the US delegation did was to make a short statement that it ‘did not support’ the permanent Israel-bashing item….” (Bayefsky calls this diplomatic backstabbing — agreeing to participate in the consensus, but hedging in a manner that has no clout.)
“If the Obama administration had really wanted to stand on principle they could have said ‘we do not join consensus on this document.’ (The point is that the US delegation permitted themselves to be counted in the consensus.) They could have demanded that there be a vote in the Council on the document before sending it to the General Assembly for formal approval, and then voted against it for the world to see. And most importantly, they could have made it very clear that the absence of a change would result in the US departure from the Council. They did none of the above.”
“Instead, Obama caved. Saving the Council was most important and the US was going down with the ship. The ‘reform’ process will now proceed merrily through the UN system without a glitch. The President of the General Assembly said…: ‘I congratulate the Working Group on adopting the Human Rights Council review by consensus.’ The US delegation was all present. Nobody peeped.” (Emphasis added)
My American friends, I can only hope that you are deeply ashamed of this official US action — or lack thereof. And that you are sufficiently enraged — is smoke coming out of your ears yet? — to make as much noise about this as you can.
Clearly, the Obama administration had hoped all of this would pass under the radar screen. And indeed it might have, except for the report of a tireless Anne Bayefsky.
My bet, as well (this has got to be a sure thing), is that Obama was less motivated to take genuine action in the Council because it was Israel that was being vilified. Less motivated than he would have been, for example, if Jordan were on the block.
It’s important to understand how much duplicity is at work here. Hillary Clinton, secretary of state and Obama lackey, was in Geneva yesterday doing damage control.
One of the things she addressed in a public statement at the opening of the current session of HRC was this:
“The structural bias against Israel — including a standing agenda item for Israel…– 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.”
Try not to gag. How cheap and easy are words for public consumption, compared with the hard work of really doing something. Here’s the evidence that the administration was counting on our not knowing what actually went on inside the Council. And notice the consistent use of “we.” The US is one of the guys now, and what horrendous company they are in.
As if all of this was not enough, there is yet another major issue confronting the UN Human Rights Council right now — which Bayefsky says Clinton is attempting to paper over “to protect the administration’s investment…”
This has to do with Libya’s involvement with the Council. In 2003, this nation actually held the presidency of the now defunct Human Rights Commission. I wish this were a joke, but it is not. It was subsequently elected as a full member of the Human Rights Council.
As John Bolton once pointed out, the General Assembly resolution that set the Human Rights Council in place included no membership criteria. All that was required was that: “when electing members of the Council, Member States [of the UN General Assembly] shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto.”
A website was set up on which prospective members of the Council were able to post their “pledges.” “This is what Libya posted: ‘The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya [a term coined by Gaddafi that means, roughly, “people’s republic”] is fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights principles…including the right to direct participation in public life…The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya has paid great attention to human rights over the past 30 years.’ That statement was good enough to garner the votes of 155 of 188 UN members and to send Libya to the Council.”
Of course, Saudi Arabia, China, and Cuba were also deemed fit to be members of the Human Rights Council.
This is surreal.
At any rate, the Council prides itself on an innovation called the Universal Periodic Review, which is supposed to review the human rights record of each nation of the UN, in due course, including the members of the Council itself. During the review process, other nations sitting on the Council are permitted to comment.
Last November, the human rights record of Libya was reviewed. See this Eye on the UN video, with comments by the likes of Saudi Arabia, N. Korea, Iran, Egypt and Cuba:
The formal report based on this review of Libya — which praises Libya’s human rights accomplishments — was placed on the agenda of the current session of the Council, to be presented on March 18 and then accepted at the end of the month.
Even in the face of the on-going horrendous human rights violations of Gaddafi and the call to remove Libya from the Council, this remained on the agenda. To allow this presentation to move forward would be a travesty of justice, and make a mockery of everything that is sensible.
And here I refer to another fine organization, UN Watch (http://blog.unwatch.org ). Its tireless executive director, Hillel Neuer, has been leading the campaign to remove the report from the session’s agenda. “The report is a fraud, an insult to Libya’s victims, and should be withdrawn immediately,” he has said.
I devoted today’s posting to this, instead of J Street and a host of other hot issues, because it is information everyone needs to have, and which is not given enough prominence.
Bravo and bravo, to Neuer and to Bayefsky, for their important work.
But it’s time for every American to ask the president and the secretary of state precisely what the US is doing as a member of the Council.
Do the American representatives to the Council in Geneva do anything beyond using their tucheses (their rear ends) to warm their seats?
Did Clinton avoid calling for the removal of the positive report on Libya from the Council’s agenda because exposing the current situation would have made clear to one and all what sort of Council the US had opted to join?
Take note, please, of how Bayefsky closes this particular piece on the UN:
“And then there’s this: On Friday, March 4, Iran – the country that buries women naked to their waist and then stones them to death for ‘adultery’ – is going to take its seat as a full-fledged member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
“If President Obama and his secretary of state really understood the error of using the United Nations to prop up human rights demons, then, rather than attempting, even today, to help the Human Rights Council cover its tracks, it should be telling the world and the UN to remove Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women.
“And it should resign from the Human Rights Council effective immediately now that its ‘reform’ has proved to be impossible – as was obvious to human rights victims from the start.
“But don’t hold your breath. The Obama administration would rather promote the institution of the United Nations than save real people from the UN’s grotesque neglect.”
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.