Of human rights and glass houses

As we know, those who live in glass houses shouldn‟t throw stones.  What, then, shall we make of a nation that pretends to live in a glass house on human rights, and then provides the stones for its enemies to throw?

That‟s the question to ponder in light of today‟s news, brought to us by the Washington Post, that the United States has decided to subject itself to a human rights review by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

To refresh memories, President Obama took the controversial step of putting the United States on the wholly misnamed, 47-nation council – which replaced the UN‟s equally misnamed Human Rights Commission in early 2006 – in his efforts to repair relations with the global community after President Bush‟s blustery go-it-alone style.

Bush had refused to put the United States on the council and, by the time Obama assumed office, the panel had already advanced far down the road of moral bankruptcy. For one thing, its members include some of the world‟s worst human rights abusers, such as China, Cuba, Cameroon, and Zambia. For another, the council‟s behavior reflects the UN‟s overall obsession with human rights violations by Israel and the free pass it gives to far worse abusers in the Middle East and elsewhere.

In fact, the council ordered what became the notoriously one-sided “Goldstone Report” about Israel‟s human rights violations during its military operations in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009 to stop rocket attacks from the terrorist group Hamas on Sderot and other towns in Israel‟s south.

The Obama Administration argued that, while the council had predictably besmirched its name through its selective consideration of human rights problems around the world, the United States would be better placed to improve its work from the inside than complain from the outside. The risk, of course, was that America would give credibility to a body that deserves little if any and, at the same time, subject itself to unwarranted criticism of the kind that‟s sure to come through the council‟s upcoming review of the United States.

Indeed, Eye on the UN, a project of the Hudson Institute and Touro College‟s Institute for Human Rights, finds that “[I]n the „new and improved‟ UN Human Rights Council, the worst human rights abusers are praised and admired,” and the annual review “has become a place where abusers are applauded and democracies are heavily criticized.”

Now, it‟s America‟s turn. The administration will spend the next few months drafting a report of up to 20 pages for submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) working group, which consists of the council‟s 47 members.

The working group will draw lots to pick three member nations (the “troika”) to review the U.S. report. The full group will discuss the report with U.S. officials, and any other UN member state may join the discussion.

The administration announced its participation in the UPR process on the day that it released its latest annual report on the human rights records of other nations. Based on that report, here are some council members who will stand in judgment of the United States, perhaps even as troika members:

China: China‟s government, the State Department wrote, “increased the severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities,” increased the “detention and harassment of human rights activists,” subjected public interest lawyers and law firms to “harassment, disbarment and closure,” engaged in “extrajudicial killings, executions without due process, torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, and the use of forced labor, including prison labor,” and “continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest, and imprison journalists, writers, dissidents, activists, petitioners, and defense lawyers and their families,” while limiting free speech and controlling the Internet and access to it.

Cuba: The government, State wrote, “continued to deny its citizens their basic human rights, including the right to change their government, and committed numerous and serious abuses,” including “beatings and abuse of prisoners and detainees, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions…arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates and members of independent professional organizations,” along with “severe limitations on freedom of speech and press; denial of peaceful assembly and association” and “trafficking in persons, and severe restrictions on worker rights.”

Cameroon: “Human rights abuses included security force torture, beatings, and other abuses, particularly of detainees and prisoners,” according to the State Department. “Prison conditions were … life threatening,” and arrests and detentions of activists were “arbitrary.” The government imposed restrictions on the freedoms of “speech, press, assembly, and association,” and even “movement,” and it engaged in “trafficking in persons, primarily children” and “discrimination against indigenous people, including pygmies, and homosexuals.”

Zambia: The government‟s record, State wrote, “remained poor, and it deteriorated … in a few areas,” with such problems as “torture, beatings, and abuse of suspects and detainees by security forces” along with “life-threatening prison conditions” and “arbitrary arrests and prolonged pretrial detention,” restrictions on “freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association,” and “violence and discrimination against women; child abuse; trafficking in persons… forced labor and child labor.”

Stay tuned for America‟s human rights review by these and other paragons of virtue.

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