There was anguish among many Americans when the Obama administration agreed to participate in the planning sessions for Durban II -- a UN conference against racism which would be a "sequel" to the first such Durban conference in 2001 that became an anti-Semitic hatefest. The Bush administration pulled out of that conference and took a principled stand by refusing to participate in the planning of the second such conference.
When Barack Obama became President, a concerted effort was made to embrace the United Nations and American took steps to become a Durban II participant. The administration sent representatives to the planning sessions who sat all but mute as the planners drafted a planning text marked by many objectionable sections.
There was a political uproar here in America; the administration staged a showy withdrawal from Durban II. Obama supporters heaped praise on the withdrawal -- blithely ignoring language that suggested the administration might reengage and participate in Durban II. Perhaps the language was too muddled or foggy for people wearing rose-colored glasses to read.
Now it appears, based on an interview that Susan Rice, America's Ambassador to the United Nations, gave to the Politico's Ben Smith, that America might be preparing to participate in Durban II after all. This would add insult to injury since America has already made moves to become a member of the Orwellian-named UN Human Rights Council. Membership in this UN body is a disgrace. The Council has become another UN group, living off the largesse of American taxpayers (in part), that is obsessed with attacks against America and Israel. While involvement in Durban II would be a one-off event, membership in the Human Rights Council will be a continuous disgrace. While Susan Rice might talk about reforming the Council, such puffery is disingenuous, as noted by Anne Bayefksy (a scholar who has carved out a sterling reputation as an expert on the United Nations). The UN Human Rights Council is rigged against the West -- its structure and governance will not allow America much leeway at all to reform the group.
Susan Rice told Ben Smith:
"We have a record of abject failure from having stayed out. We've been out for the duration and it has not gotten better. It's arguably gotten worse," she said. "We are much better placed to be fighting for the principles we believe in - protection of human rights universally, fighting against the anti-Israel crap and for meaningful action on issues that we care about and ought to be the top of the agenda, things like Zimbabwe, Sudan [and] Burma - by leading and lending our voice from within."
A similar logic is at play with the anti-racism conference, scheduled for April 20 in Geneva, the successor to a 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa, that featured sharp condemnations of Israel. The U.S. delegation pulled out of preparatory talks for the conference after negotiators produced a 63-page draft text that featured more condemnation of Israel and demands for reparations for the slave trade.
That withdrawal seemed to prove the Bush administration's point. "While we got a lot of love, we didn't get any progress on the document," Rice said of the early talks, calling the draft "rife with anti-Israeli and other problematic substance" and "not a credible basis for a responsible outcome."
Since then, however, an American willingness to return to the table has been met with deep concessions and a new, 17-page draft has that dropped all reference to Israel, though there is still tension over a line reaffirming the outcome of the previous meeting in Durban. "We haven't taken a decision about our participation or actual involvement in the negotiations at this stage, [but] we're pleased that this document has substantially improved and is already much better. But [it] has a remaining significant problem," Rice said.
Anne Bayefsky rebuts Rice's rationale that membership on the Human Rights Council will reform the Council by pointing out that the structure of the council itself makes this arduous and unlikely to occur:
The Human Rights Council is the United Nations' lead human rights body. Created in 2006 by the General Assembly as a "reformed" Human Rights Commission, the council has taken the worst elements of its predecessor and magnified them. Former U.S. President George W. Bush decided not to join it after various U.S.-suggested reforms -- such as minimal standards of respect for human rights among member states -- were rejected. Now, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, claims that "working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum." The U.S. State Department speaks of future reform.
In other words, the United States is joining a fundamentally flawed body in order to make it something that it isn't. Disingenuous, to say the least. The council already is the reform. Its predecessor lasted half a century, and the same stumbling blocks that prevented fixing of the system in 2006 are still present and more entrenched than ever. The majority of the members of the U.N. General Assembly are not fully free democracies. Getting serious about democratic rights and freedoms is not their priority.
The council itself is controlled by human rights abusers who like it just the way it is. Membership is determined by distributing seats among five regional groups, with the African and Asian groups holding the majority. In turn, member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) hold a majority in each of the African and Asian groups. This gives the OIC the balance of power. When the going gets tough, the single U.S. vote, or the seven votes of the "Western European and Others Group" (WEOG), amount to a hill of beans. Resolutions are continually watered down for the sake of artificial consensus or adopted over the objection of every WEOG member. Just last week, we saw another sorry example of this phenomenon, with the adoption of a resolution on the "defamation of religions." What does restricting free speech in the name of "religion" have to do with protecting individual human rights?
By letting some of the world's worst regimes rub shoulders with its leading democracy, the United States becomes an enabler. These governments don't share Western or universal values. They use the council to: (1) feign interest in human rights, (2) keep the focus on Israel and away from themselves, (3) manufacture victim status, (4) encourage liberal guilt and concomitant financial responsibility, and (5) undermine the universal application of real human rights standards.
The record is incontrovertible. The council has adopted more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all other 191 U.N. member states combined -- where the remaining 99.9 percent of the world's population actually lives. There have been 10 regular sessions on human rights for all, and five special sessions to condemn Israel alone. The council excludes only Israel from the key negotiating and information-sharing meetings of every regional group. It has terminated human rights investigations on Belarus, Cuba, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And all investigations of "consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms" in such states as Iran, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have been "discontinued."
Absolutely none of that will change with the United States sitting in the front row, Obama's rhetorical skills notwithstanding. On the contrary, joining this farce means accepting the discriminatory agenda and attending WEOG meetings with a sign reading "no representatives of the Jewish people allowed" hanging on the door.
The Council's one new device -- the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) -- was heralded as introducing a careful examination of all UN states without discrimination. What actually happens is that a series of human-rights abusers congratulate one another, avoid any serious scrutiny, and then denigrate the democracies that agreed to the travesty in the first place.
Ironically, in the name of "engagement" the United States will now repeatedly be drawn into confrontations that could have been avoided. With Canada leaving the council, the European Union spineless in the face of OIC opposition, and the international human rights system now opposed to "naming and shaming," the United States will have to rock the boat if it wants to avoid joining a corrupt consensus. This will mean voting against OIC-driven resolutions and proposing "controversial" condemnations of any state other than Israel.
As to the possibility of America attending Durban II if the draft text is suitably rewritten, one should wonder what will be the American response when speaker after speaker condemns Israel and when protesters and participants engage in anti-Semitic agitprop. How will cosmetic changes to the draft -made in order to induce American imprimatur to Durban II-effect that dynamic.
President Obama and Susan Rice are naïve to believe that our, and Israel's , avowed adversaries and enemies on the UN Human Rights Council will. All he has to do is honestly review his own efforts to get help from our friends and allies in dealing with Afghanistan, the inmates at Guantanamo Bay, the economic problems afflicting the world. These efforts to persuade our friends to help us have, to a great extent, failed.
Over the past month, Secretary of State Dick Holbrooke and his assistant, Hillary, have been working through NATO and individual countries on getting commitments for Afghan deployment that Big Guy could get credit for today in the U.S. press. And boy, did Dick and Hill come through. The Brits are sending a few troops; Belgium offered 35 military trainers and Spain offered 12. That's it. The U.S. is sending thousands. Big Guy wanted to know what Holbrooke and Hillary had been doing with their time that would lead to this kind of embarrassing set of offers."
Now, somehow, he expects our enemies will treat us better than our friends. That is not self-reflection but self-delusion.