Last week at the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination, ostensibly a non-political body made up of independent experts, the Egyptian, Mr. Ahmad Khalifa, launched an attack on the United States and Israel, all in the context of decrying the politicization of the human rights field.

Analysis: Mr. Khalifa began by observing that after 50 years, the human rights machinery of the United Nations had achieved mixed results. Saying that human rights were all too often subjected to political considerations, it seemed that Khalifa was going to pose an honest intellectual challenge to the human rights system.

Before long, though, Khalifa delivered of himself an attack on the United States, on Israel and on the “religionization” of conflict, reminding his audience that for “many, many years, we have never heard an attack on one religion.”

In his speech, Khalifa accused the U.S. of engaging in economic genocide through its policy of sanctions against the likes of Iraq and Cuba. Reflecting on Israel’s 50 year history, Khalifa said it began with the massacre of “hundreds” at Deir Yassin in 1949, and that Israel can now proudly point to the creation of Bantustan areas in the West Bank, and to its government that is “in the business of dispatching assassins to kill enemies abroad.” Ending with a warning, Khalifa said that the Middle East is presently a powder keg, with “one party holding nuclear weapons and refusing to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Also last week, Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr, the Egyptian Chairman of the important UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), was criticized at an NGO briefing for his support last March of the convicted Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy. In reply, Aboul-Nasr said that no one could deny the Holocaust, but he angrily went on to add that nothing should be “sacrosanct,” that it is perfectly acceptable to question how many Jews were killed in World War II, and that the issue of compensation is being used for (unspecified) “political objectives.”

All of this occurring in the UN is frightening: Egypt is showing genuine, anti-Western, leadership. It frames its arguments so as to drive a wedge between the US and other Western democracies, and it emphasizes the common interests of non-Western countries, whom it characterizes as underdogs. All the while, there seems to be a disconcerting inability to reply on the part of the Western powers.

States disingenuously hide behind the “independent” status of experts to distance themselves from their experts. In all cases, though, governments must first nominate “experts” before they can be elected. We have the right, therefore, to hold governments responsible for the nominees they choose.

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