Rights Panel Session off to Misguided Start
Chicago Sun Times
March 19, 2003
By Anne Bayefsky
The 59th session of the UN Human Rights Commission opened in Geneva on
Monday. The spectacle of the opening session makes clear why UN New York
bodies have been found wanting on Iraq.
Assuming the commission chairmanship was the representative of Libya, Najat
Al-Hajjaji. As she started to speak, hundreds of leaflets were dropped in
silence from second-floor balconies by the non-governmental organization
Reporters Without Borders, based in Paris. They read: ''The UN has finally
appointed someone who knows what she is talking about! Disappearances,
torture, arbitrary arrests, detention without charge or trial, pervasive
censorship . . . Ms. Al-Hajjaji can be proud of her new job . . . Libya . .
. knows a thing or two about human rights violations.''
This prompted the Cuban delegate to take the floor and demand immediate
action to withdraw the credentials of the group. His call was met by
sustained applause from other delegations, which at this year's commission
include Algeria, China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe.
The real threat to us all, ranted the Cuban, was imperialist hegemony.
In case there was any doubt as to what the senior UN intergovernmental
human rights body is about, the chairwoman was obligingly transparent. In
her opening remarks, which past incumbents have understood as a general
welcome and vision of the session to come, the Libyan threw down the
gauntlet. First on her list of priorities was the Middle East, where she
spoke only of ''Palestinians humiliated, killed and deprived of
self-determination.'' Next, came the United States, to which she directed
without name, the following diatribe: ''We see black clouds gathering . . .
ominous of a catastrophic war which will certainly violate all human rights
. . . Some countries . . . violat[e] the rights of migrants and refugees
and minorities and even visa applicants . . . We will have to treat the
root causes of anger and frustration. Among the causes there is . . .
Statements were also made by South Africa on behalf of the UN African
regional group, Malaysia on behalf of the UN Asian regional group, and
Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This was
the sum total of the speakers on the opening morning. They weren't shy
about making their views known. The context of a human rights commission
was no impediment. They complained about country-specific resolutions
directed at their countries, called for an end to ''naming and shaming,''
for more responsible participation from NGOs, increasing the number of paid
personnel in the UN-human rights bureaucracy from their countries and
objected to information-sharing about women's rights violations between the
UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
In the meantime, High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello tried to
distinguish himself and his future UN career from this sinking ship.
Nevertheless, after opening generalities, he said: ''I think particularly
of the situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.'' And
what did he think? Security and freedom from terrorism required peace, and
that in turn required a foundation of human rights. No clarion call from
the high commissioner that terrorism lays waste any such foundation. On the
contrary, he said, agonizingly seeking some middle ground: ''Terrorism is a
form of political expression. Certainly, it is not without reasons, some
probably better than others.''
Opening day just about summed up what's wrong with the UN:
The sooner one recognizes that diplomacy severed from moral moorings has
serious consequences, the better. One is reminded of the hapless Iraqi
dissident who weeks ago frantically climbed into a UN weapons inspector's
Jeep in Iraq, only to be hauled off by Iraqi guards to certain torture.
Commenting after the incident, Chief Inspector Hans Blix told reporters:
"What an inelegant way of approaching UN inspectors."
- Western governments are timid, ashamed to be forthright about values, and notoriously cowed by baseless accusations of imperialism and evil hegemony
- Repetition of the lies about double standards have a habit of taking root--all you have to do is watch British Prime Minister Tony Blair ape the
- "Israel equals Iraq" profanity
- The idea of the UN as a harmless forum for blowing off steam, or a feel-good sanctuary for perpetual losers on the actual protection of rights scale, is dangerously naive.
"Technicalities over realities'' was how former Swedish Foreign Minister
Per Ahlmark described Blix.
The UN Human Rights Commission will certainly be full of elegant parties of
the diplomats, by the diplomats and for the diplomats. But for those of you
whose loved ones found themselves instead sitting on the bus or airplane
beside a suicide bomber, your invitation to the UN Human Rights Commission
is in the mail.
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