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Meanwhile, Back at the UN…

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When we last left our friends at the United Nations, they were deputizing war criminal Robert Mugabe as an envoy for tourism after trying to hand Mt. Rushmore back to the Native Americans and ban Dante from schools, among other exploits. Although we at Via Meadia have since been preoccupied by other pressing matters, the UN has continued marching resolutely onward into self-parody.

The place: the Human Rights Council. The occasion: Venezuela’s candidacy for this council. Astute readers may have already spotted a slight problem–Venezuela is not exactly a paragon of human rights, and probably isn’t the best choice to oversee those crucial freedoms around the globe. And so, this past Saturday, the Human Rights Foundation NGO sent a representative to question the wisdom of this move, citing some basic historical facts:

In Venezuela, exercising free speech is fraught with risks. Political dissent is criminalized. Property is capriciously and unlawfully seized. Opposition politicians are disqualified from elections thanks to false accusations. Journalists are harassed and media critical of the government is simply shut down. Judges are fired and even sent to prison when the president dislikes their rulings. More than 150,000 people have been killed in Venezuela since Lieutenant Colonel Chávez was elected president in 1999…

While all of this has taken place this council has remained silent.

Madam President, despite all of this, Venezuela is now seeking election to this council. When it was founded in 2006 the council promised that only those countries that “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” would be the only ones elected. To elect Venezuela would shame and embarrass this council and would allow Venezuela to shield its horrendous record of abuse and equally problematically, to validate other authoritarian governments.

The response to this ringing call for moral accountability? As you can see in the video above, council members Cuba, China and Russia attempt to shut down the discussion, delegitimize the NGO and strike its testimony from the record. (The United States valiantly protests.)

As incidents like these attest and as State Department officials like Rhodes Scholar Ronan Farrow have detailed, the UN Human Rights Council is a sad, pathetic joke and an insult to the values it purports to uphold. It coddles dictators, debases democracies and makes a mockery of what should be the UN’s great moral calling. Witness the impending ascent of Syria–yes, Syria–to the council. As Farrow argues, the UNHRC needs to be disbanded and rebuilt from the ground up:

U.N. member states should be prepared to call for a fresh start. A new body should be built, with the safeguards initially proposed for this one — such as the required approval of two-thirds of the U.N. to attain membership — left intact. A forum that serves as a real tool in service of human rights is worth fighting for.

Farrow issued this call in 2008. Via Meadia hopes it may be heeded someday, but we aren’t exactly holding our breath.

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  • QET

    I agree with everything said here except the statement as to what should be the UN’s great moral calling. The concept of human rights has proven far too elastic for it to be any kind of moral calling of the UN. Better to leave human rights to the practice of individual nations such as the US until the power of the example works change elsewhere (although tying foreign aid to demonstrable changes in governance and real protection of certain rights is a good thing also).

  • Withywindle

    Dear Prof. Mead: I am cautious about the sentence “More than 150,000 people have been killed in Venezuela since Lieutenant Colonel Chávez was elected President in 1999.” I am willing to be corrected, but I believe this refers not to killings by the government, but to total homicides in Venezuela. Now, the Chavez government may be neglectful, possibly malignly, but I do not believe it is murderous on the scale the sentence implies. Please do check this out to see what the correct figures are.

  • Stuart Wilder

    Given its history, it is idiotic to spend any time, money or attention on the UN as an institution that always protects human rights. It might do so when such a concern is, in a particular case, in the interests of one or more of its individual members states. No country though is innocent of hypocrisy on this issue, and with understandable, if not good, reason: valid and invalid national interests sometimes demand that you deal with the S.O.B.’s of this world. The U.S. should go back to ignoring the pack of hyenas known as the UNHRC, and when able and willing to pursue human rights, do so secure in the knowledge that this college for war criminals is best left uninvolved.

  • deepelemblues

    I have to disagree with Dr. Farrow, there is no evidence or reason to believe that any human rights organization created by the United Nations will accomplish anything. Better to just give up on it and deal with human rights at the national level. States can organize themselves into coalitions to deal with human rights matters, or take their own positions and actions, if they so wish.

  • alex scipio

    The UN, like NATO, was constructed at a time and place in which the USSR was a serious threat that needed managing politically and militarily.

    The USSR no longer exists.

    Neither should the UN or NATO.

  • Steven E

    the UNHRC needs to be disbanded and rebuilt from the ground up

    Um, we just did that. Why would anyone imagine that we would get any better results now than we did in 2006?

  • David

    Quick observation:

    Why is The United States name tag in Spanish?

  • Gabo

    Here is another look at this from a CFRs stewart Patrick

    I also think the universal periodic review makes a difference. And also, Human Rights Watch, which is some measures is a beacon for human rights work also highly supports the imperfect though necessary work of the council.

  • Atanu Maulik

    I don’t know why in these tough economic times we spend billions to keep this circus running. I can think of so many other things where the money could have been better used.

  • Art Deco

    And also, Human Rights Watch, which is some measures is a beacon for human rights work

    Aryeh Neier was a press agent for the Sandinista Front and the crew currently operating in the Near East might as well be on the payroll of the PA and Hamas. Beacon leading people toward what?

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