Allowing regime to sit on Human Rights Council simply business as usual
by John Robson
Oh great. Syria seems to be headed for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Could the UN be more in your face?
Those who unaccountably maintain faith in the UN thought replacing the old, discredited UN Human Rights Commission — call it UNHRC(1) — with a new UN Human Rights Council or UNHRC(2) in 2006 would somehow recall the UN to its true self. Well, be careful what you wish for because it just did.
UNHRC-1, you may recall, capped its infamous career by electing Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya to its chairmanship in 2003 to offend George Bush. But the new improved UNHRC-2 welcomes places like Saudi Arabia, the People’s Republic of China, Russia and, gosh look here, Libya again (elected in 2010 while Gadhafi was still tormenting his people).
Technically this sort of thing happens because UNHRC-2’s 47 members, serving staggered three-year terms, are allocated to various regions of the world by quota (Africa 13, Asia 13, Eastern Europe 6, Latin America and the Caribbean 8, and 7 for Western European and Others, or WEOG, which includes basically every place you’d ever want to live). And to avoid picking holes in one another’s ragged coats on human rights, regional groups generally just nominate as many nations as they get seats so members aren’t elected but acclaimed.
Now it might be tempting to call this ruthless pragmatism and ask if these people have no morals. But these are their morals. Remember the classic scene from the 1985 comedy mystery film Clue where Miss Scarlet hisses, “I hardly think it will enhance your reputation at the UN Professor Plum, if it’s revealed that you have been implicated not only in adultery with one of your patients, but in her death and the deaths of five other people” and Plum replies, “You don’t know what kind of people they have at the UN,
I might go up in their estimation.”
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called the prospect of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad having a seat on the UNHRC(2) a “sick joke,” claimed “it would do irreparable damage to the United Nations and likely would be the biggest blow that the United Nations has taken since its formation,” and added “what Assad needs to be facing is the International Criminal Court to face charges for committing crimes against humanities, he and his henchmen.”
I applaud his indignation. But his analysis is flawed when his rhetoric even allows analysis. The “biggest blow?” To a body that welcomed Sudan to UNHRC(1) the same year it made Libya chair despite or, cynics might say, because of the ongoing Darfur genocide? What about pounding relentlessly on Israel, being pro-Soviet throughout the Cold War, spending lavishly or chronically combining arm-flapping impotence with windy pomposity?
As for inflicting “irreparable damage” on this wretched organization, I’ve been wondering how to do that for years. But this wouldn’t work. Putting Assad on UNHRC(2) would just be business as usual, the UN carrying on as it always has.
Baird also commits a serious blunder in calling for an international trial for Assad. Such calls perpetuate the idea that there’s some sort of world government somewhere with popular legitimacy, an effective police force and impartial courts, committed to liberty under law. There isn’t. But there are good reasons the U.S., like Israel, refuses to accept ICC jurisdiction. First, Americans can uphold their own rule of law, thanks, and second, the “international community” couldn’t even
if it wanted to, which it doesn’t.
Finally, Baird calls the whole business a “sick joke.” He doesn’t know what kind of people they have at the UN. When they shove Syria for UNHRC(2) in our faces on purpose, they’re showing us who they are and who they think we are. It’s no joke.
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