The UN Human Rights Council Does More Harm Than Good
Monday, June 13, marked the opening of the 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). The two main speeches of the day presented an opportunity for the world to reflect upon not just the absurdity of the HRC, but the actual harm it is causing.
First up on Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, delivered her opening address. It came shortly after her trip to China, which was widely met with outrage, as Bachelet completely whitewashed the horrific abuse of the Uyghur and other Turkic peoples, which has been described by some as amounting to genocide. Instead of rising to the moment and standing up for victims, she simply “raised questions” about “counterterrorism and de-radicalization measures,” using the Chinese government’s propagandistic euphemism for the concentration camps. She emphasized that the “main outcome” of her visit was to focus on identifying areas “to continue cooperating and collaborating.”
If there’s one thing a regime that throws an entire minority group into concentration camps doesn’t need or deserve from “human rights” officials, it’s collaboration.
Afterwards, the HRC urgently arrived at its main priority: regurgitating attacks on the Jewish state once again. Its latest “commission of inquiry” against Israel — sometimes referred to as “Pillay’s Pogrom” after its chairwoman, Navi Pillay — delivered its newest report. Rather than presenting any actual evidence of abuses or crimes, the report largely just recycles and launders boilerplate allegations that UN bodies have made — almost always without any real evidence — a thousand times before.
It all raises the question: why do we have the HRC in the first place?
Recall its origins. In the early 2000s, the UN’s then premier human rights body, the Commission of Human Rights (CHR), was continuing the longstanding tradition of serving as a playground for undemocratic regimes to attack democracies like the United States and Israel. In 2003, it was even chaired by the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was forced to admit that “[w]e have reached a point at which the Commission’s declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system.”
The embarrassment was such that in 2006, the CHR was replaced with the HRC.
But 16 years later, how is the HRC any different than the CHR, other than in name?
Dictators continue to treat the institution as a tool to distract from their horrific abuses. The HRC has never once condemned China, which has herded over a million Uyghur and other Turkic peoples into concentration camps solely because of their faith.
Instead, it has spent time holding an emergency meeting about the United States, and even tried to create a special investigation after a police officer killed George Floyd in 2020. The US has its problems, and Floyd was unjustly murdered. But should a “human rights” institution be prioritizing a democratic country with internal procedures for accountability (even if flawed at times), while remaining silent at the expense of the Uyghurs, who have no available mechanisms for protection and redress?
Meanwhile, the HRC has continued dedicating an entire agenda item to just one state — Israel — in addition to the obscenely disproportionate number of investigations, resolutions, and special sessions it has used to attack the Jewish state.
What, exactly, has improved?
One whopping reform during the transition from the CHR to the HRC was “reducing” the number of members from 53 to a grand total of 47 — all to make the election process “more selective.” In case you’re wondering, yes, that’s the UN insulting your intelligence.
Another “reform” was the creation of the so-called Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism — which, defenders claim, means all states will be scrutinized. So what? Rights abusers simply flood the proceedings with government-organized “non-governmental” organizations to praise their records. Worse, most state representative statements made during UPR proceedings are usually undemocratic regimes praising other undemocratic regimes.
Which brings us back to Monday’s opening of the HRC session.
US representatives politely sat in their seats and watched the obscene display as Bachelet continued to leave Uyghurs to the mercy of the Chinese, and Pillay fueled the antisemitic obsession with delegitimizing the Jewish state.
Not only is the HRC proving itself no better than the CHR, but it is arguably even worse.
The practical question thus becomes, what are we actually committed to? Human rights? Or the Human Rights Council? As we should’ve learned 16 years ago after the CHR, we can’t truly be committed to both at the same time.
David M. Litman is a Research Analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA). The views expressed here are his alone.