Issue 99: Do the UN and US still have shared values?

On Monday The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Prof. Anne Bayefsky, UN Watch Board member.  Following is an edited version, used with permission from, a web site from Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  The original version can be found at that web site listed under April 28.

U.S.-U.N. relations seem impossibly complex given the Security Council debacle both before and after the war with Iraq. They can be reduced, however, to a central issue: shared values.  The U.N. Charter is rooted in the essential principles of equality among human beings, and nations. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells out universal human rights standards. The U.S., as a founding member, understood those human-rights principles to be consistent with American values.

The U.N.’s Iraq fiasco demands an answer to the unambiguous question of how U.N. bodies have performed against those fixed and indispensable principles. Is it still true that Americans can anticipate a common core agenda? With the conclusion last week of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights annual session, the record speaks for itself.

The commission is the primary U.N. organ responsible for human rights protection. The current chair is Libya. Yes, Libya. In addition to Libya, three of the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism are current members–Cuba, Sudan and Syria. On April 15, the commission adopted a resolution sanctioning the use of “all available means including armed struggle”–which includes suicide bombing–as a legitimate tactic against Israelis. Only five countries, including the U.S., voted against. The U.K. and France abstained, and Russia approved.

More than a quarter of the commission’s resolutions condemning a state’s human rights violations passed over the last 30 years have been directed at Israel. There has never been a single resolution on China, Syria or Saudi Arabia. The current session ended by defeating a resolution to criticize anything about the situation in Zimbabwe, and by eliminating the 10-year-old position of rapporteur on human rights in Sudan. This was despite a report of the U.N. rapporteur on torture informing commission members of the Sudanese practice of “cross-amputation”–amputation of right hand and left foot for armed robbery, and various cases of women being stoned to death for alleged adultery.

Commission meetings themselves are a platform for incitement to hate and violence. The Cuban representative demanded action against “the most critical case of . . . massive and flagrant violations of human rights [and] of the systemic institutionalization of racism–that of the United States.” The Algerian delegate said: “The Israeli war machine has been trying for five decades to arrive at a final solution.” The Palestinian representative called for the “elimination” of “Zionist Nazism.”

Hope for the integrity of the U.N. human-rights program has been placed by many on U.N. independent experts and treaty bodies. But the U.N. system has undermined their independence. Last year the commission itself insisted on naming the special rapporteur on racism, and thus ensured that his reports are preoccupied with discrimination against Arabs and Muslims, notwithstanding the actual array of racism and religious intolerance the world over. In February, the Egyptian candidate to the Committee on the Rights of the Child was elected with the highest number of votes. This although states had been told by the leading international child-rights nongovernmental organization: “NGOs feel that she is not very knowledgeable nor reliable on the issues . . . due to her strong affiliation and history with the Egyptian government.”

The sad fact is that the U.N. is not only a failed leader in the protection of human rights, but is itself a substrate of xenophobia and aggression. The U.S. pays 22% of the U.N.’s regular budget. Yet today’s U.N. operates in fundamental opposition to the values of the U.S.–and to its own universal human-rights foundations.

UN Watch