A Moral Relativist Par Excellence: The ‘Arab Charter on Human Rights’ is a joke — to everyone except Canada’s very own Louise Arbour

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George Jonas, National Post
February 2, 2008

Family legend tells of my Victorian grandmother being urged to vote for a certain chief of gendarmerie in her district. “He’ll be impartial,” the campaign worker cajoled her.

“Impartial is nice,” my grandmother replied, “but when I catch someone stealing a chicken from my yard, I want a gendarme who is on my side.”

Many years later, when Canada abstained in the United Nations on some issue or other during the Cold War, I made a disapproving remark. “How can you be an honest broker,” someone said to me, “if you take sides?”

“Why would you want to be an honest broker between right and wrong?” I asked, remembering grandmother’s dictum.

“Because” he replied triumphantly “you can’t tell which is which.”

Drums. Fanfare. This turned out to be the grand legacy of our experiment in world government. After a few years of membership in the UN, we could no longer tell right from wrong. Or a gendarme from a thief from a chicken. When little old ladies called the cops, we sent them mediators.

Some believe that moral leadership requires strict neutrality between good and evil. 0Not only individuals but entire countries, even epochs, labour under this illusion. Canada has long been such a country, and our “non-judgmental” times are such an epoch — in the West only, I hasten to add, because elsewhere the times are anything but non-judgmental.

I suppose it’s fitting that our gift to the international human rights community, Madam Justice (as she used to be) Louise Arbour, should be neutral between good and evil. In the space of about 72 hours this week, the one-time poster girl of Canada’s legal establishment — former war crimes prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights — had first endorsed, then backed away from endorsing (sort of) the Arab Charter on Human Rights.

In case some readers wonder, an “Arab Charter of Human Rights” isn’t — like “military intelligence” — a contradiction in terms or a joke from the David Letterman show. It is an actual document that is supposed to come into force (whatever that means) in mid-March. Ratified, so far, by seven Arab countries, the charter was devised to mirror more closely the Arab world’s cultural heritage than other human rights charters, such as, say, the UN’s own seminal 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Well — apparently it does that. It does so most notably in provisions pertaining to touchy matters such as the death penalty for minors (Article 7:1); secret trials (Article 13:2); and Article 2, which condemns “all forms of racism, Zionism and foreign occupation and domination” and invites “efforts [to] be deployed for their elimination.”

Hello, High Commissioner – did you see that? Zionism = racism? Wasn’t that repudiated by the UN in 1991?

That august assembly did pass a Zionism = racism resolution in 1975, true, but then it got rid of it. For the past 16 years, it was dead — until Ms. Arbour spoke. Until she called this charter, Article 2 and all, “an important step forward,” as she did in her first statement on Jan. 24.

A Geneva-class bureaucrat, a scourge of war criminals, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Did her apparent endorsement bring Zionism= racism back to life?

Well, if so, only for 72 hours, max. Within three days, our fearless crusader for human rights –oops, wrong word, sorry — lapsed back into a sort of, well, shall we say, benign Canadian neutrality about a “regional” charter, or “human rights” as seen by a culture that has been known to greet mass murder with celebratory ululation. We don’t endorse it holus-bolus, you know; we endorse it only up to a point. Not the bad bits, just the other ones.

Or, in the High Commissioner’s actual words:

“Throughout the development of the Arab Charter, my office shared concerns with the drafters about the incompatibility of some of its provisions with international norms and standards. These concerns included the approach to the death penalty for children and the rights of women and non-citizens.

“Moreover, to the extent that it equates Zionism with racism, we reiterated that the Arab Charter is not in conformity with General Assembly Resolution 48/86, which rejects that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.

“[The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] does not endorse these inconsistencies. We continue to work with all stakeholders in the region to ensure the implementation of universal human rights norms.”

Wow! Those are ringing words. Ms. Arbour is waxing Churchillian. She’ll “work with all stakeholders in the region” — all, presumably, who want peace with Israel and all who want peace without it.

Is such a no-man’s land between good and evil the moral high ground? Is an honest broker strictly neutral between subway passengers and those who blow them up? My grandmother had a different view. “No, dear,” she said on another occasion, “good is good and bad is bad. Sitting on the fence won’t put you above it all; it will just give you a pain in the you-know-what.”

Yes, grandma, we know.

Copyright 2008, CanWest News Service
Original URL: http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/story.html?id=280594