The Farce of the UN Human Rights Council

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.

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  • mck9


    The United States, which has been flaunting the Geneva Conventions,,,

    I think you meant flouting. We are hardly in a position to flaunt them.


  • Sure, it’s bad, but think of the power that could be generated once we figure out how to harness irony.

  • suttkus

    No, no, no, Bush redefined torture so the term didn’t apply to the stuff we were doing, thus freeing us from having violated any treaties because everyone knows when you make up a definition of a term, you can apply it backward to stuff you signed before and override their old, now out-dated definitions. See? No problems! Also, our human rights record is perfect as we’ve defined anyone we do bad things to as not-human. You cannot argue with this logic!

    We must hope that the terrorists never figure out this technique. Otherwise, they would rebrand blowing up a building as “Positive Energy Enhancement of the Terrain” and there would be nothing we could do to stop them!

  • Point of information: The Saudi Arabian theocracy is based on Wahhabi Islam, not Sunni. While Wahhabism grew out of the Sunni interpretation, it claims to be the One True Islam. Most other schools, in return, consider Wahhabism to be heretical and pay it lip service only because it controls Mecca and thus the Hajj.

  • If the UNHRC is bad because the United States is a member, then complaining about the UNHRC seems rather pointless.

  • ragarth

    The worst of the abusers have a vested interest in trying to prevent the human rights council from doing its job. Ergo they try to get on it. The rest of the nations just don’t care about human rights in other nations, ergo they don’t feel a vested interest in getting on it.