Erasmus at The Economist writes about the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is little more than a bad joke. The council is made up of 46 nations, many of them with an absolutely appalling record on human rights (including the United States, by the way).
THE UN Human Rights Council was voted into existence in 2006, in the hope that it would do a better job than its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, at promoting the basic freedoms which almost every country in the world has accepted, in theory. It was hoped, for example, that there would be healthy competition for places on the new body’s rotating membership of 47 nations. Countries aspiring to a place on the council would, so the theory went, have an an incentive to behave better.
It doesn’t seem to have worked. Let’s focus purely on religious freedom, which is the main concern of Erasmus, and is by most people’s lights an important human entitlement. Of the 14 nations voted onto the council today, three—China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam—have been designated by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom as “countries of particular concern” in respect of religious liberty, while another two—Russia and Cuba—are deemed by the Commission to violate liberty of conscience in significant ways.
Now one can, of course, challenge the Commission’s hierarchy of violators; between and within healthy democracies there can be hard arguments over what exactly amounts to an infringement of religious rights. But Saudi Arabia does not even pretend to respect religious freedom, or to tolerate any form of overt religious practice other than the officially approved interpretation of Sunni Islam. The practical consequences of this stance can be appalling. In August, the Saudi founder of a mildly liberal website was sentenced to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for “insulting Islam” by encouraging some cautious religious debate. If the charge of apostasy—leaving Islam—had been upheld, he would have faced the death penalty.
Here are some of the countries on the UNHRC: China and Saudi Arabia, as noted above. The United States, which has been flaunting the Geneva Conventions, engaging in and covering up torture, for the last decade (indeed, via proxy, for most of the last century, not to mention the slaughter of Native Americans and mistreatment of blacks and other minorities going back to our founding). Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, all of which have harsh blasphemy laws (which should completely disqualify you from ever claiming to favor human rights at all). If this is a human rights council, one wonders what an anti-human rights council would look like.
Like Dispatches on Facebook: