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Leaving the UN Human Rights Council

The margin between what is a human right as an inalienable possession, and how it is seen in political terms is razor fine. In some cases, the distinctions are near impossible to make. To understand the crime of genocide is to also understand the political machinations that limited its purview. No political or cultural groups, for instance, were permitted coverage by the definition in the UN Convention responsible for criminalising it.

The same goes for the policing bodies who might use human rights in calculating fashion, less to advance an agenda of the human kind than that of the political. This can take the form of scolding, and the United States, by way of illustration, has received beratings over the years in various fields. (Think an onerous, vicious prison system, the stubborn continuation of the death penalty, and levels of striking impoverishment for an advanced industrial society).

The other tactic common in the human rights game is gaining membership to organisations vested with the task of overseeing the protection of such rights. Membership can effectively defang and in some cases denude criticism of certain states. Allies club together to keep a united front. It was precisely this point that beset the UN Commission on Human Rights, long accused of being compromised for perceived politicisation.

The successor to the UN Commission on Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Council, has come in for a similar pasting. The righteous Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, had made it something of a personal project to reform the body. It was a body that had been opposed by the United States. But reform and tinkering are oft confused, suggesting a neutralisation of various political platforms deemed against Washington’s interests. Is it the issue of rights at stake, or simple pride and backing allies?

For one, the barb in Haley’s protestation was the HRC’s “chronic bias against Israel”, and concerns on the part of Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a UN human rights chief unimpressed by the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

Accordingly, Haley announced that the United States would be withdrawing from “an organisation that is not worthy of its name”, peopled, as it were, by representatives from such states as China, Cuba, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We take this step,” explained Haley, “because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.”

The Congolese component deserved special mention, the state having become a member of the HRC even as mass graves were being uncovered at the behest of that very body. Government security forces, according to Human Rights Watch, were said to be behind abuses in the southern Kasai region since August 2016 that had left some 5,000 people dead, including 90 mass graves. A campaign against the DRC’s election to the Council, waged within various political corridors by Congolese activists, failed to inspire UN members to sufficiently change their mind in the vote. A sufficient majority was attained.

The move to withdraw the US received purring praise from Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, still glowing with satisfaction at Washington’s decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem. For the Israeli leader, the Council had been nothing but “a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organisation that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights.” It had avoided dealing with the big violators and abusers-in-chief, those responsible for systematically violating human rights, and had developed, according to Netanyahu, an Israel fixation, ignoring its fine pedigree as being “the one genuine democracy in the Middle East”. The slant here is clear enough: democracies so deemed do not violate human rights, and, when picked up for doing so, can ignore the overly zealous critics compromised by supposed hypocrisy.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, did not restrain himself in praise. The United States had “proven, yet again, its commitment to truth and justice and its unwillingness to allow the blind hatred of Israel in international institutions to stand unchallenged.”

The common mistake made by such states is that hypocrisy necessarily invalidates criticism of human rights abuses. To have representatives from a country purportedly shoddy on the human rights front need not negate the reasoning in assessing abuses and infractions against human rights. It certainly makes that body’s credibility much harder to float, the perpetrator being within the gates, but human rights remains the hostage of political circumstance and, worst of all, opportunistic forays. The US withdrawal from the Council does little to suggest credible reform, though it does much to advance a program of spite typical from an administration never keen on the idea of human rights to begin with. The Trump policy of detachment, extraction and unilateralism continues.


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  1. helvityni

    Will Australia follow? In Trumpland they separate children from their mothers; in Oz we have an indefinite detention of asylum seekers… Both roads lead to depression and possibly to suicide…. Yet we keep talking about Hitler’s horrors and China’s human right violations…

    When will we ever learn…

  2. Jaq

    Wonder if Australia will be wagging its puppy dog tail?Malcolm makes fun of Trump in private and kisses his arse in public….oh for a bloody leader

  3. wam

    The UN could do with a thorough physical examination.
    Trump may be a bull in a china shop but many of the exhibits he treads on are old, useless and wasteful.
    As for human rights? How did we treat our commissioner???

  4. Florence Howarth

    Trump force to back down on caging children

  5. helvityni

    Florence, so Americans ( on both sides of politics) are better than us, we don’t even allow our asylum seekers to go to NZ. No, we want them to suffer , we punish them for NOT drowning…

  6. Kronomex

    helvityni, no I think Dutton wants them to suffer to bolster his monstrous appetites.

  7. Zyg

    ” explained Haley, “because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.”
    I think that this statement just about sums up Trumps administration.

  8. helvityni

    Melania and other wives of ex-Presidents of the US came to the children’s rescue; not so in Oz when it comes asylum seekers. Where are our past and present compassionate Ladies in high positions ( their own or their husbands)…What are they concerned about, fashion, travel, real estate…? Mrs Howard admitted putting on a washing machine when upset…

    At least Anita Keating promoted AUSTRALIAN fashion and manufacturing, Margaret Whitlam was as good as her man, maybe better…

  9. Mick Byron

    THe UN,with a budget of $5.4 billion and the UNHCR with a $250 million budget are pretty damned useless and ineffectual anyway.
    I can’t think of to many positive outcomes over the years.
    More a talkfest for burueacrats, a place for Foreign Ministers to put their feet up and the whole damned mess just rumbles on, unless the USA wants to put pressure on tiny nations and lackey States for a Resolution now and then

  10. Stephen G B

    Nailed it!

  11. New England Cocky

    “Haley’s protestation was the HRC’s “chronic bias against Israel” ….. uhm ….. What is the difference between a Nazi Jackboot on the throat of a Jewish teenager in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 and an Israeli Defence Force jackboot on the throat of a Palestinian youth in Gaza or the West Bank in 2018?

    ANSWER: 75 years.

    The USA (United States of Apartheid) have a “wonderful record” of upholding human rights; like separating refugee children from their parents, maintaining the death penalty, encouraging incarceration into the privatised prison system for the pecuniary benefit of some elected judges, using kidnapping and torture as legitimate weapons in enforcing USA foreign policy, pursuing imperialist ambitions in Asia, read Vietnam, and the Western Hemisphere, invading former allies without declaring war as in Iraq, and like Prescott Bush, financing despotic regimes like the German Nazis in the 1930s. The list goes on ….

  12. jimhaz

    I would like to see a complete refresh every so many years of all these types of organisation. They all seem to end up in the realm of Regulatory Capture which leads to forms of corruption and poor quality policies. They also tend to form a sort of two-sided groupthink situation. I often see the UN as little different to FIFA.

    The problem is that most western governments are presently as immoral as most developing countries – so they would replace the people with the same sort of person.

    Trump wants all power in his hands, so any reasoning his government provides is probably excuse making. All in all though I am only a little uneasy about this withdrawal, though the US does need to be a part of some major group dealing with human rights before too much times lapses. In the context of all the other international agreements, it does however become more concerning as it is making the US isolated and makes it easier for Dictator Trump to do whatever he wishes to the US, which will flow on to the weirdo copycat public abusers like Abbott here.

  13. Zathras

    The so-called bias against Israel is not because of who they are but what they do.
    I wonder where we still stand now that the shadow of the USA is no longer there for us to hide under.
    Our own record on Human Rights abuses is nothing to be proud of. Perhaps we should also resign.

  14. Kronomex

    “Instead, Haley suggested, the UN monitor should have used his voice “to shine a light” on countries where governments were causing pain and suffering on their own people, such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. “”

    We cause completely different sorts of pain and suffering on our own people so we are exempt from any criticism, unlike those nasty people in little shithole countries.

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