America and the HRC
Last week I attended a seminar organized by the European Union of Jewish Students focused on the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. All week we sat in on the Council's proceedings, met with experts and heads of NGOs, and spoke with representatives from various countries' missions to what is intended to be the international forum for the defense of human rights. As an American, I was interested to see the results of the Administration's unprecedented decision to join the Council in 2009, continuing its desire for a "new era of engagement" -- a policy from which little else has come. Inside, however, what I saw was a room filled with hypocrisy and hate.
Our attending coincided with the Council's treatment of standing agenda Item Seven, "The Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other Occupied Arab territories." Though the Council has Item Four, dedicated to country specific resolutions, of the total of ten standing agenda items one is dedicated every session solely to Israel. Furthermore, with six resolutions against Israel in this session alone, compared to one on Iran, one on North Korea, and zero on dozens of perennial abusers from Mauritania to Venezuela, the blatant and counterproductive anti-Israel bias is evident. Yet the Council's treatment of Israel, while a problem, is far from the biggest obstacle to its effectiveness.
During speeches on Item 7, dozens of world's most notorious abusers and largest sponsors of world terrorism took to the microphone to preach to Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, how it should conduct itself. Mauritania, a country of 3.5 million in which nearly 700,000 are living in slavery, condemned Israel's treatment of minorities. Sri Lanka, the subject of a resolution for the systematic murder of upwards of 60,000 of its own citizens, condemned Israel. Russia condemned Israel's use of "one-sided force" -- careful not to mention Chechnya. So with the Council in such a mess, why are we giving legitimacy by being present?
Though it may seem too simple, the answer is that we must. The United States is the only country left that still has the ability and will to teach those worldwide that worth can be found in every nation, and more importantly in every person. It's our responsibility as the last defenders of world greatness to make sure that all know that one does not need to live within our borders to have the American dream. Whether we like its structure or not, the Council is not going away -- nor should it. Though it has its vast abundance of flaws, the fact remains that it is the only international body dedicated solely to promoting and protecting human rights abuses. The fact that we must be present, however, need not mean that we have to obey the norms established by those seeking to undermine the cause. Instead we must do all we can to change the culture, the dialogue, and the Council itself.
Since America's admission, important steps have been taken to improve effectiveness; in Syria, the Council's resolutions have been some of the only international measures taken to ensure documentation of the grave abuses committed each day by both sides of the conflict. In response to the dramatically worsening situation in Libya last year, the United States led the charge to remove Libya from the Council, setting a precedent for future action. Yet so much more remains to be done. Israel, our greatest ally, remains isolated and abused. The only country in the world that is not a member of a regional group, Israel cannot communicate or share information with other Western Nations in the Council, or in any other Geneva-based body. Richard Falk, a "Hamas partisan" and 9/11 conspiracy theorist, remains the Council's "expert" on Palestine. Worst of all, countries like Mauritania, Uganda, Congo, Cuba, and many others remain full voting members, delegitimizing all of the Council's efforts.
Given the world demographic, many of these problems will be difficult to solve; one issue upon which action has already been taken once, at least, is the membership of the council. In a speech on January 24, 2013 to the Geneva Center for Security and Policy, Ambassador Eileen Donahoe said of the removal of Libya: "This was a clear and important step toward keeping the world's worst human rights violators off the Council." When I pressed representatives from the missions of three different NATO countries, including the United States, this week on removing these gross violators of human rights from the Council, they all responded that it would be too difficult, a pipe-dream in the face of international diplomatic realities. To Ambassador Donahoe, President Obama, and those around the world who claim to stand for human rights I must quote the great Theordor Herzl: "If you will it, it is no dream."