Issue 308: “The UN’s red carpet for tyrants: We’re hosting our own assembly where repression isn’t welcome” – Op-ed in today’s NY Daily News

Don’t miss the powerful op-ed below by human rights hero Yang Jianli, appearing in today’s New York Daily News. It explains why UN Watch and 20 partner groups are holding a major human rights summit this week in New York. For more information, visit


The UN’s red carpet for tyrants: We’re hosting our own assembly where repression isn’t welcome


Monday, September 19th 2011

United Nations General Assembly, held annually in New York, is a permanent fixture of the diplomatic calendar. Just as inevitably, in the year that passes between each session, the world undergoes changes on a scale from the significant to the enormous.

This Wednesday, when President Obama opens the general debate of the Assembly’s 66th session, those changes will impact most visibly upon the roster of world leaders not in attendance.

Few, for example, will forget Libyan Col. Moammar Khadafy’s 2009 appearance, when he delivered a rambling, 1-1/2-hour speech, tossed aside a copy of the UN charter and called the Security Council a “terror council.”

In 2011, Khadafy’s regime will be invisible. His key UN diplomats already defected in February.

Similarly, thanks to the political convulsions across the Middle East, other repressive regimes – from Egypt, from Tunisia – will be absent this year, never to return.

Even so, for every collapsed tyrannical regime, there are several more that have retained power. And they, too, will be represented in New York, and treated with all the respect we afford duly elected leaders of constitutional, multiparty democracies.

From the Middle East, their number includes Syria, Sudan and Iran – whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will be attending the Assembly for the seventh year in a row.

More broadly, this club of tyrannies includes Zimbabwe, Cuba and, of course, my own country, China, a Security Council member.

This depressing reality underlines the greatest challenge of the UN system, which has never distinguished between democracies and dictatorships – despite the fact that the UN is sworn to universally uphold the same human rights for all peoples, regardless of where they live.

Given this paradox, how is meaningful action possible on urgent human rights violations, such as China’s brutal crackdown this year on citizens who dared to peacefully gather for walks around Chinese cities?

The GA’s prearranged agenda precludes such discussions. When the world body does make the news, it’s about the outrageous theatrics of its participants: Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust, say, or Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez suggesting that former President George W. Bush was Satan.

The UN’s bloc of authoritarian states are all too powerful to prevent the democratic impulses sweeping the world from surfacing in the world body. Back in March, after Libya was finally suspended from the UN’s Human Rights Council, I had occasion to address that body. Recalling the case of Liu Xiaobo, a writer serving an 11-year jail sentence for advocating freedom, I asked how China’s Communist regime, whose victims run into the millions, could remain as a member. I was interrupted by China and Cuba and never received an answer.

That is one of the many reasons why I will be joining an international coalition of dissidents and human rights organizations in New York this week. Led by UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO that works the UN’s corridors on behalf of human rights victims across the world, we will hold a parallel summit to combat discrimination and persecution. It’ll take place within a stone’s throw of the UN’s headquarters on the banks of the East River.

Like me, many of the summit’s participants are dissidents who were imprisoned for the sole crime of promoting democracy.

Rebiya Kadeer, the voice of China’s oppressed Uyghur minority, was jailed for five years, two of them in solitary confinement. Ahmad Batebi, an icon of Iran’s student democracy movement, was tortured for eight years in an Iranian prison. The mullahs never forgave the July 17, 1999, cover of The Economist, showing a photo of Batebi with the bloodied T-shirt of his friend, shot at a peaceful rally. Grace Kwinjeh, the Zimbabwean dissident and journalist, was tortured in prison by President Robert Mugabe’s thugs. Now in exile, she fights the regime’s victimization of women.

These and other participants, like Berta Antunes of Cuba and Jacqueline Kasha of Uganda, took extraordinary risks for the causes they represent.

Together, we will produce a series of proposed human rights resolutions for the UN to adopt, based upon a common principle: The use of fear as an instrument of government must be banished forever.

Freedom from fear was promised by the UN in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Rest assured that until this basic freedom is taken seriously in those halls, our voices will ring loud.

Jianli is a leading Chinese human rights advocate. An eyewitness to the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, he now lives in the United States, where he founded Initiatives for China, a pro-democracy organization.

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