On behalf of UN Watch, I recently had the chance to testify before United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during a meeting on “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action”.
Within my allotted two minutes, I was interrupted three times by Council members China and Cuba – and admonished by the Council’s President. These interruptions, and the decision of the President demonstrate what’s wrong with the UNHRC today: its -and its members’- hypocrisy.
Consider the hypocrisy of its members.
The first interruption came when we tried to raise UN Watch’s concerns about human rights abuses in China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia. Despite intolerance being the subject of the meeting, Saudi Arabia’s brutal suppression of peaceful protests, Cuba’s continued detention and torture of peaceful political dissidents, and China’s imprisonment of pro-democracy activists -including Dr Wang Bingzhang, (a Canadian pathologist serving a life sentence in solitary confinement for his role in founding the international pro-Chinese democracy movement, and organizing the Tienanmen Square Protest), and Liu Xiao Bo -the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate- had yet to be mentioned. I was interrupted by the Cuban Ambassador, who claimed that my testimony had “nothing to do” with the subject at hand.
The Council President was Thailand’s ambassador. Thailand has been accused of mistreating its Muslim minority which is seeking to secede, and other ethnic minorities like the Karen people. He allowed me to continue -reluctantly- and only after he warned me to “stick to the subject at hand,” and not to talk about human rights abuses in specific countries. As if talking about human rights violations is somehow out of order. One might argue that the President -tasked with upholding human rights- was hypocritically shutting down criticism of Cuban, China and Saudi Arabia, so that Thailand would be similarly shielded from criticism.
The prior examples are paradigmatic of the government sponsored discrimination that is rife in these countries. Those states hypocritically use the UNHRC to deflect attention from their major felonies, by critiquing only the minor misdemeanours of Western democracies.
Now consider the hypocrisy of the UNHRC itself.
The next interruptions came after UN Watch pointed out that the UNHRC, not just the member states that sit on it, is engaging in gross hypocrisy.
We called out the Council for ‘selective prosecution’ – an insidious form of discrimination in which a justice system is perverted to protect the wicked and punish the weak, the courts are used as a tool of oppression. One form is the application of a law only to breaches by one group. For example, China only charging occupied Tibetans for failure to get a permit under draconian public assembly laws. Another type of selective prosecution is far worse: when a government uses its power and position to shelter those it favours from punishment justly deserved. Grotesquely, the UNHRC has protected China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia from being subjected to the sanctions their actions merit. The equivalent would be the police arresting and prosecuting the black driver for speeding, while defending the white drivers stealing cars, murdering the former owners, then running down pedestrians.
The UNHRC has the power to sanction members guilty of ‘gross and systematic violations of human rights’ by voting to recommend that the UNGA suspend that state from the Council.
The UNHRC has exercised this power once – in March, when it appeared Gaddafi was doomed, it suspended Libya’s membership.
Objectively, Libya’s human rights offenses are minor compared to those of China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. So we asked: “Does not the failure to apply the same sanction to China, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia constitute selective prosecution?” and called for the UNHRC to lead by example, and suspend the membership these countries.
And this is where China and Cuba cut in -demanding the President revoke UN Watch’s speaking privileges claiming that our remarks did not ‘belong to the scope’ of the agenda item, and that we had erred by providing examples of discrimination in specific countries. We weren’t surprised, but we were disappointed by the President’s decision to agree, and ordering that the part of our testimony criticising the UNHRC would have to be “taken out.”
Prior to my testimony, Iran had testified about Western countries discriminating against Muslims, and Cuba had condemned Europe’s treatment of the Roma. UN Watch was admonished for doing the exact same thing – except that our targets were the despotic regime states that control the UNHRC.
We understand that systemic human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, China and Cuba are ignored because of Saudi oil, Chinese military and economic power, and Cuba’s leadership of a large “third world” voting bloc.
Our hope is that by shining a light on the gulf between the UNHRC’s platitudes and its practice, we can reduce its use as a soapbox -and shield- for the worst and most cynical hypocrisy that humanity has to offer.
The UNHRC protects the interests of the dictatorships that sit on the Council- that’s why it only censured Libya after Gaddafi’s 40 year reign of terror, when it knew he was losing power. As long as this hypocritical behaviour continues, the UNHRC is sending the message that it is on the side of dictators – not their oppressed peoples. As long as this situation remains unchanged, the U.N. will never live up to the dream of its founding Charter: “That we the peoples of the United Nations determined to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.”
This article is cross-posted from latner.wordpress.com