Striving for mediocrity

Thomas P. Kilgannon
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Posted: Apr 08, 2006 12:06 AM
Last week, UN Ambassador John Bolton cast a lonely ballot when he voted against the creation of the United Nation's new Human Rights Council. In so doing, he expressed the belief of the Bush administration that the UN can do a better job of promoting human rights than it has in recent years when, for example, it allowed Libya – a state sponsor of terrorism – to set the international human rights agenda.

"We must not let history remember us as the architects of a Council that was a 'compromise' and merely 'the best we could do' rather than one that ensured doing all we could do to promote human rights," Bolton said.

But the administration's belief that the UN can do better is rooted more in optimism than in reality. The concept of excellence is one with which most UN bureaucrats are not familiar. If the institution were to undergo an extreme makeover – as it is in the process of doing under the title "UN Reform," – it might rise from failure to mediocrity. That was evident when the General Assembly voted 170-4 last week to brush aside American concerns about poor huddled masses yearning to be free, and engaged in diplomatic drivel which resulted in little more than a name change of a failed and disgraced human rights institution.

The day began at the United Nations as it often does – with the Venezuelan and Cuban delegations seeking recognition to denounce the United States. When they were finished with their anti-American rants, the member states voted to create the new Human Rights Council which was empowered to work "towards the prevention of human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies." But such declarations are laughable from an institution which can not even recognize that genocide is taking place under its nose in Darfur, Sudan.

The Council, we are told, will "make recommendations with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights." But the only country that has drawn the ire of UN human rights inspectors of late is the United States. In February, the UN issued a scathing report about how poorly prisoners were being treated by U.S. military personnel at the terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. What is interesting to note is that the "inspectors" who wrote the report never bothered to visit Gitmo. They undoubtedly obtained their "facts" from Air America.

The new Human Rights Council promises to conduct its business in a "transparent" manner, but only after its members have been elected by a secret ballot. The only substantive change is that the new Council will have six fewer members than the old Commission. But membership remains "open to all Member States of the United Nations" including Saudi Arabia where women are repressed. Zimbabwe is eligible for membership even though the Mugabe government is carrying out Operation Murambatsvina which means "Clean out the Trash." Under this program, hundreds of thousands have lost their homes or businesses. Even Iran, which is openly advocating another Holocaust is eligible to sit on the new Human Rights Council and cast judgment on the human rights records of other nations.

Bolton advocated stronger reforms to the human rights apparatus including a prohibition on membership for rights abusers and placing an emphasis on quality of membership, not quantity, by allowing no more than twenty nations to serve. These and other good suggestions were promptly dismissed by countries who, in Kofi Annan's words, still seek membership "not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others."

The UN's failure to promote human rights, coupled with its various scandals, has lead to some of the institution's worst approval ratings in its history. A recent Gallup poll found that only 30 percent of the American public think the United Nations is doing a "good job" – a number that has steadily declined over the past three years.

Ambassador Bolton was right to reject the UN's fraudulent alternative to the failed Human Rights Commission. But the Bush administration should have gone further and withheld funding for the new institution until member states proved that they would elect only those countries that would take seriously the promotion of human rights, and who themselves have strong records on the issue.

Before squandering any more tax dollars at Turtle Bay, it is time to shift the burden of proof to the United Nations. Let them show us they are worthy of U.S. investment. Or, as one great American might have put it, "Trust, but verify."