All Quiet on the UNHRC Front

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One of the most under reported stories of recent months must surely be the troubling developments at the United Nations Human Rights Council (the UNHRC – not to be confused with the UN High Commissioner of Refugees) writes Elle Hardy

Formed in 2006 from the ashes of the hamstrung and ineffective Commission on Human Rights, the body’s watery but noble aim is to “help member states meet their human rights obligations through dialogue, capacity building, and technical assistance.”

The UNHRC is the lead body within the UN for human rights. Its reports and recommendations can ultimately only be enforced by the UN Security Council. It serves three functions: to review and give recommendations on the self-reporting of human rights in all participating countries every country every four years, to promote and discuss human rights, and to report gross violations.

The Council’s great fame is its infamy: passing repeated resolutions to condemn Israel, while only expressing “deep concern” on Sudan’s genocide in Darfur (and subsequent nomination of Sudan for a seat on the Council by the African bloc), and the repeated resolutions on “defamation of religion” brought by Islamic states and backed by allies in despotism, such as Cuba, Russia, and China.

In July this year, envoys from both Syria and Iran announced that they would attempt to run for a seat in 2014. Presently, the Council is reviewing the human rights credentials for the nominations for the 47 seats by Saudi Arabia, Senegal, China, Nigeria, Mexico, Mauritius, Jordan, Malaysia, Central African Republic, Monaco, Belize, Chad, Israel, Congo and Malta.

Last week saw all but several western countries take to the floor to congratulate Saudi Arabia and China on their ‘advancements’ in the field. Farce is a too temperate word; irony too wry.

A seat on the UNHRC may be of little consequence to the enslaved women of Saudi Arabia, or the starving Congolese – but there is an ethical incumbency to prevent tyrants and megalomaniacs from possessing the faintest air of legitimacy, or a platform to espouse their bilious views.

Furthermore, if any institution with such gravitas, resources, and access is of vacuous morality, is it not conceivable that particular countries or voting blocs could use this standing to cover-up, to corrupt, or to abet further human rights violations?

Outside of right-aligned, pro-Israel groups UN Watch and Human Rights Voices, there is little reporting, let alone criticism. The silence on UNHRC from the major left-aligned organisations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has been particularly disappointing.

It must be asked whether the inherent belief in and support of the United Nations by social-democratic and progressive movements in politics, media, and civil society is informing their silence.

Their collective failure for vocal criticism of the UNHRC can be seen through three key defining planks of much of the modern left: the notion of equality, moral relativism, and environmentalism.

Belief in democracy of nations is a logical fallacy. By giving equal seats at the table and votes to countries who do not afford their citizens the same rights, the UN was flawed from inception. Such an existential right of participation is the most absurd form of collectivism.

Moral relativism defies the modern concept of human rights, which dates from the French and American revolutions – where there was universal support for the assertion that human rights both exist and are possessed equally. Strains of the apparent slur of ‘enlightenment imperialism’ pervade the UN and many of its supporters on the left.

It is essentially a front for anti-American and anti-Israel chauvinism. While both countries rightly receive criticism for their records, they are the straw men of a deeply flawed organisation.  Orwell said it best when he noted “the sin of nearly all left-wingers from 1933 onward is that they have wanted to be anti-fascist without being anti-totalitarian.”

Finally, I suspect the left has abdicated the cause in favour of fighting climate change. While many on the right also support the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is a hybrid of lionisation of the IPCC – and by extension the UN – and a siege mentality. Do they fear criticising the UN could undermine their position in the environment wars?

The only body that can enforce findings of the UNHRC is the impotent UN Security Council – of which Australia is a temporary member. It is well established that our voice on the Security Council will be inconsequential, as the power of veto by the permanent members have rendered it almost completely ineffectual. If Australia wishes to make any use of its time, both the government and human rights groups within Australia should use this platform as an opportunity to condemn the despotic cabals of the UNHRC in the strongest possible terms.

The Human Rights Council is set to review Australia’s commitment to human rights in 2015. It is certain that opponents of the government will pounce upon any criticism of our record. If such opponents do indeed have regard for the enlightenment values of human rights, it will be the height of hypocrisy if we hear scant from them beforehand.

Elle Hardy is a banker and freelance writer with an interest in liberty, politics, international affairs, and the Oxford comma. She can be found on Twitter @ellehardytweets