In this review of the first book on United Nations Human Rights Council, H. L. D. Mahindapala asks:Can Navi Pillay save human rights and UNHRC?
Posted on August 26th, 2013

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Part I

 The UN has notched some significant successes during its 68-year run, indicating that its life span is going to be more durable than its predecessor, the League of Nations, which  died prematurely. Unfortunately, one of its successes has not been in the field of human rights, though it is projected as the sacred temple for the protection, preservation, promotion of human rights. The unceremonious burial of the United Nations Human  Rights Commission under the weight of the damning report of Kofi Annan (2005), which condemned its selectivity and politicization, confirms the failure of the UN to fulfill its duties of protecting, preserving and promoting human rights on a global scale.

 Of course, it must be admitted that the UN did not begin in 1945 with an emphasis on human rights. Established in the immediate aftermath of the World War II UN was concerned more with the two pillars of (1) international peace and security and (2) economic development than with the third pillar of human rights. That came as an afterthought later.

 Ironically, it was the UN that gave birth to United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1948. And it was the UN that killed and buried it in 2005. And, shortly after that, on March 15, 2006 UN’s GA Resolution 60/251 gave birth to another human rights body with a slightly different name: United Nations Human Rights Council. The dead Commission recycled and rechristened as Council was intended to avoid the earlier mistakes and make a difference in  preventing violations of human rights. But has the new Council fulfilled its mandate? Dr. Rosa Freedman, Lecturer, Birmingham University specializing in International Law and Human Rights, raises this critical issue in her book, The United Nations Human Rights Council, a Critique and Early Assessment, (Routledge -2013). 

 The initial achievements of the Commission were remarkable. It produced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic , Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). Together these documents constitute the International Bill of Human Rights. But as the activities of the Commission gathered momentum over the years the contrasts and the conflicts between the ideals and the practices became quite apparent. As stated by Freedman “”¦the Commission was set up and run by Western states, many of which were still colonial powers, applying double standards between human rights aspirations and the treatment of people under their control. Decolonised countries, as a result of recent colonial practices, tended to distrust the largely westernised UN human rights machinery.” (pp 16- 17). Clearly, the accusation of double standards of the UN machinery, running largely according to the Western political agenda, did not come from Sri Lankan critics. It was there almost from the beginning, visible for even a blind man’s dog to see it.

 Dr. Freedman’s critique of the Council, exposing its fundamental flaws, are  relevant to Sri Lanka which is confronted by the contradictory, selective, politicized, country-specific power politics played by the Council. If human rights “”…” the new secular religion of humanity with NGO apparatchiks acting as its high priests “”…” is to be a redeeming force in the future then the Council cannot go the same way as the failed Commission. There is much to be learnt from the failure of the Commission. Much also depends on the heads of UNHRC whose actions can make or break the Council. Their role is to avoid  the failed past at any cost and play a decisive and balanced role to lift the Council to the next level of greater credibility and viability. Right now, the born-again baby has fallen on the lap Ms. Navi Pillay. Can she handle it? In what direction will she take it? Can she rescue human rights from the snake pit into which its predecessor fell and died?

 She is faced with the gigantic mission of not only preventing the Council from regressing  into the failed past but also to steer a new and clear path, holding the scales evenly to avoid it being an instrument big and regional power politics. If she fails there is no guarantee that a future Kofi Annan will not condemn her. The risks to the future of the Council became apparent when Israel quit, early in January, refusing to report to the Universal Periodic Review “”…” an annual event in which the 193 countries in the UN report the human rights conditions of their respective countries. With this move Israel became the first country to defy the UN. It alarmed even US, its protective ally. Eileen Donahoe, US Ambassador to UNHRC, reacted cautiously saying: . “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review, and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.” The fear was that Israel was setting an example that could be followed by other countries, leading to the second death of UNHRC. Recently Israel has indicated its willingness to come back. However, everyone concerned is keeping their fingers crossed.

Ms. Pillay, like her predecessors, will be faced with  hydra-headed crises of human rights popping up in every nook and corner, with no end in sight. Sitting in that controversial and thankless chair, facing the flak from all sides, is not going to be easy. For instance, UN Watch of Canada accused her of being anti-Western when  she accused Australia of being “racist” for sending the boat-people “”…” the illegal migrants who are seen as “economic refugees” —  to Papua New Guinea. China and non-Western nations, on the other hand, accuse the Council of  being pro-Western. That is the nature of her job. She has to cop the flak from  all sides.

 However, since she has undertaken to fulfill the mandate of the job, it is her task is to stabilize the Council and make it a credible and viable institution for states, particularly the small states to depend on the Council as a beacon to light the way into the future of human rights “”…” an issue which will be in perpetual crisis with attacks coming from all quarters. Human rights are under attack from US drone strikes or suppression of gay rights. It is under attacks when Muslim women are subjected to genital mutilation or denial of education to Muslim girls. It was under attack when the Chargossians in Diego Garcia were evicted forcibly by Britain and thrown out as homeless vagrants to make way for US to build a strategic naval base in the Indian Ocean. It is under attack each time the Indian forces suppress the Kashmiris fighting for their right to hold a plebiscite underwritten by UN. Or when the Indian forces committed war crimes against  the civilians in Jaffna in their war against the LTTE. Any number of the cultural, religious, political and  social taboos can crop up any time and create problems for the Council.

 Every global explosion of violence is bound to land on Ms. Pillay’s plate. She will be trapped permanently in the cross-fire. Her role will not only be to look after her back but also front of the Council. Her task is not going to be easy in the coming days. In every issue and at every given moment, she will be plagued with the problem of finding the correct moral center. Tilting away from the moral center can drag her and the Council down to depths of degradation. Finding the moral center is not going to be easy particularly with the crises in human rights showing no signs of abating. On the contrary, the crises seems to be heading towards escalation, going beyond manageable proportions, if one is to take the latest example in Egypt. Each crisis adds to the moral complexities of the other. The Arab spring was supposed to provide a haven for  democracy and human rights. But  the Arab spring is spiraling down into unpredictable chaos, taking a heavy toll of human lives with it. Rising tensions indicate that the 21st century is not going be any different from the violent centuries that went before it.

 Potential threats to global peace from dark forces in N. Korea, for instance, are hanging like Damocles’ sword. At the end of ten years of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and investing over $60 billion on building American-style democracy in Iraq there is still no hope for human rights or democracy in the UN-sponsored regime change. So can Ms. Pillay, as the head of the supreme body handling human rights, achieve even a fraction of her mandate to prevent violations of human rights?

 Her success or failure will determine whether human rights can rise above the usual futile rhetoric,(or is it just another meal ticket for I/NGOs apparatchiks?), and become a live force for the good of peace, stability and progress. The legacy she leaves behind is vital for the future of Council “”…” and for human rights. The spotlight is on her right now. Now that she is in Sri Lanka her role in monitoring, assessing and passing judgments on the Sri Lankan crisis, particularly the post-war period, will be a solid test of her capacity to not only guide the future of human rights but also lift the Council from sinking deeper into the mess from which it came. 

 Sri Lanka, indeed, is good place to start for many reasons “”…” not the least of which is the role played by the Council in the post-war period under the stewardship of Ms. Pillay. This issue will be taken  up in the next article as it deserves special attention. Right now the focus is on the image and the role of UN in the fields of human rights. It is common knowledge that the image of the UN as a whole has been sullied under numerous leaders and factors. One of them was when the UN slipped into the hands of Kurt Waldheim, Secretary-General from 1972 to 1982. He was  an SS officer of the criminal Nazi regime. When he died at the age of 88, The New York Times wrote (June 14, 2007) that his “hidden complicity in Nazi war crimes was exposed late in his career “¦ (D)uring World War II, he was a lieutenant in army intelligence, attached to brutal German military units that executed thousands of Yugoslav partisans and civilians and deported thousands of Greek Jews to death camps from 1942 to 1944. Waldheim lied about his wartime service in the Balkans, maintaining that his military career ended in 1942 after he was wounded in a battle on the Russian front.”

 That was not the last time that the world swallowed the lies and manipulations of the UN. This generation can never forget how Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, lied to the Security Council, with maps and reports, to wage their illegal war against Iraq. Nor can we forget the chilling reply of Madeleine Albright on US TV program “60 Minutes” (June 28, 2008) when she was questioned about the legitimacy of the 600,000 deaths of Iraqi children caused by the US-led naval cordon that blocked supplies of essential medicine and food. She was asked whether the price was right and she replied: “This is a very hard choice — but the price was worth it!” Chilling, isn’t it?

 Equally chilling is the role of the former UN  Secretary General, Dag HammarskjƒÆ’†’¶ld, who died in a plane crash, under the cloud of being complicit in the CIA plot to bring down Patrice Lumumba, the first elected Prime Minister of Congo. It is argued that Lumumba’s brutal murder could have been avoided if the UN “peacekeepers”, who had been naively invited into the crisis by Lumumba, allowed use of its airplanes for the  transport of the  Congolese forces loyal to Lumumba. Besides, after Lumumba won a  vote of confidence the UN shut down the capital’s only radio station preventing his parliamentary victory to be broadcast to the Congolese.  The UN also blocked Soviet planes supporting Lumumba from using its airfields. Soviet Union blasted HammarskjƒÆ’†’¶ld for his lack of objectivity in  handling the Congolese crisis.

 Then there was Kofi Annan who was embroiled in the oil-for-food program in Iraq. In this scandal Annan was accused of siphoning some of the lucrative contracts to his son. UN is over-populated with wheeler-dealers who are out to cut political or commercial deals for their benefits.

 In short, the UN which is supposed to the solution to the problem of human rights has become a source of committing human rights  violations, betraying the cause of human rights, with some of its over-enthusiastic officials taking sides at the expense of human rights.  Its acts of commission and omission “”…” from Congo to Srebrenica, from Diego Garcia  to Iraq, from Palestine to Kashmir, from the Soviet gulags to Guantanamo, from Malvinas to Tibet, from rendition to children recruited forcibly into needless wars, (the list is long,) — have left the small nations in particular as pawns in the power play of human rights.

 Take, for instance, the role played by Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy when she was the  Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict at the UN.  Posing as the Mother Theresa for all children she went junketing in war-torn countries in Africa and Afghanistan to raise her concerns about the children forcibly dragged into futile wars. Wearing a head scarf to indicate her cultural empathy with Islamic norms, she expressed concerns about the “dancing boys” of Afghanistan. Well done! But what meaningful steps did she take to deal with the most shameful and heinous crime committed against children globally by the cassocked agents of the Vatican state? Why didn’t she name and shame the Vatican state for knowingly covering up the crimes committed against children? How come she turn a blind eye to the boys dancing in the chapels for the delectation of the priests? This kind of move certainly would thrill Ranil Wickremesinghe who has never stopped dancing  with his boys at Aas-Siri Kotha. But isn’t Ms. Coomaraswamy supposed to apply her principles on a universal basis, without fear or favour?

 Though she ignored the criminal activities of the Vatican state she was quick to despatch Alan Rock, who was aligned to the LTTE agents in Canada, to investigate and report on the alleged child recruitment of Government of Sri Lanka. She ignored hundreds of thousands of boys being abused in the chapels but she was in an obscene hurry to  investigate a handful of boys in Karuna’s brigade after he broke away from the LTTE.  The issue here is not the numbers (though they contribute to the overall picture) but the emphasis on selected, country-specific issues by UN panjandrums that reveal their  political biases. How can human rights thrive, or even survive, when the paid guardians of its sacred tenets play politics to serve their personal agendas?

 Ms. Coomaraswamy was one of the first to get off the mark and promote the new political cult of Responsibility to Protect (R2P). She flew all the way from her UN office in New York to deliver a lecture on this topic at Melbourne University. She even sent Gareth Evans, the head of International Crisis Group, to launch the R2P doctrine at her local political base, the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) at Kynsey Road. Evans appeared when the Vadukoddai War was nearing its end, with all visible signs of the LTTE being  wiped off the map of Sri Lanka. The West was sending its emissaries to force the GOSL to stop the war and Evans was one of them who preceded Bernard Kouchner and David Milliband, two foreign Ministers who rushed to give new life to the LTTErs breathing their last.

 The appearance of Gareth Evans at ICES to preach the doctrine of responsibility to protect was somewhat odd because he was the Foreign Minister of Australia who joined his counterpart in US, Madeleine Albright, in throwing the naval cordon round Iraq that caused the deaths of 600,000 Iraqi children. What baffles me is how he could go along with Madeleine Albright in Iraq without even apologizing for the killing of innocent children and then front up in Sri Lanka brazenly to preach the doctrine of protecting non-combatants. I wrote to him (he is now  the Chancellor of the Australian National University) and asked him whether he should not be tried as a war criminal for causing the deaths of innocent Iraqi children. Obviously his silence indicates that his commitment to R2P does include his responsibility to answer embarrassing questions. Or even questions that point to his guilt?

 Moreover, with the deaths of 600,00 children on his conscience he had no qualms of taking on the job of heading the International Crisis Group “”…” another INGO that dictates morality to countries like Sri Lanka. The broad international front of human rights activists is overcrowded with Waldheims who hide their partisan politics or their criminal past. This is particularly the case with the human rights activists who parade regularly at the Council in Geneva, posing as lily white martyrs for the noble cause of serving the UN Charter, hiding their direct and indirect links to mass murderers like Velupillai Prabhakaran, or similar crimes.

 When the Waldheims, Madeleine Albrights and Gareth Evans are in the forefront of human rights, with cheer-leaders like Ms. Coomaraswamy egging them on from the side, who can guarantee the future of innocent children? Can a flawed and fragile instrumentality like the Council, dependent on questionable evidence provided by handpicked “experts” “”…” some of whom are complicit in crimes against humanity — be the guarantors of human rights which is a determining factor in the future of humanity?  The future of human rights, unfortunately, is in the hands of some of the most questionable characters who are bent on earning a crust by marketing the blood and wounds of the victims of crimes against humanity.

 In the main, there is a five-pronged attack on human rights : 1. failure of the UN structures, procedures and the appointed guardians to serve the cause of human  rights independently and objectively; 2. the use of UN instrumentalities to strengthen the global power bases instead of human rights; 3. the clash of states, either ganged up with Big Powers, or the regional powers (example: Organisation of Islamic Conference) in which double standards on human rights play a dominant role; 4. the clash of big and small nations with the UN itself over the use and abuse of human rights and 5. the reporting mechanism of I/NGOs that peddle their partisan politics in the guise of promoting human rights. The defects hardwired into the UN system tend to cast a shadow over the Council. Dr. Freedman warns: “Despite the need to avoid repeating its predecessor’s failings, the Council’s form, nature and many of its roles and functions are strikingly similar to those of the Commission.”

 So can Ms. Pillay make a difference? Will she breakthrough or break down? 

 Her visit to Sri Lanka, though late, is welcome. It is a grand opportunity for her to discover the moral center of complex issues in conflict zones. Finding a balance, through a serious and genuine examination of the pros and cons, is essential not only to restore the lost faith in human rights but also to help the nation/s to steer a path to peace, stability and reconciliation without over-bearing international power-brokers dictating morals which they never apply to their own situations.

 She will be faced many dilemmas and complexities as she goes round. Some of those issues will be dealt with next article.

14 Responses to “In this review of the first book on United Nations Human Rights Council, H. L. D. Mahindapala asks:Can Navi Pillay save human rights and UNHRC?”

  1. Senevirath Says:

    SHE WANTS TO SHOW THAT SHE IS DOING SOMETHING JUST TO KEEP A GOOD JOB

    U N O IS USELESS

  2. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    YES SENEVIRATH !! Five years in UN and you reap a very rich harvest till death.

    Navi seems to be getting hotter by the minute.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    The UN was created to stop a Third World War from happening. The first two WWs started in Europe.

    Ms Navi Pillai said she is committed to stopping ‘Institutionalized Discrimination’ (ID). ID does not happen in Sri Lanka, but exists in Tamil Nadu in the form of Caste based Discrimination of 3,000 yrs.

    Ms Pillai is visiting the wrong country.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:

    Dear Ms navi Pillai,

    Please help Sri Lanka by :

    (1) Stop all illegal migration into Sri Lanka. Help us deport all illegal migrants already in Sri Lanka. We think there may be many hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants in Sri Lanka. We in Sri Lanka have a Human Right to peace of mind, sans Separatists.

    (2) Do help Tamil people of Tamil Nadu who want to migrate to the more affluent countries to go direct Chennai to foreign country. Right now they use Sri Lanka as the trampoline to jump to other more affluent countries, often in ways very damaging to Sri Lanka. They have a Human Right to negate Caste stemming from TN, but in the right way.

    (3) Do help Sri Lanka with the Human Rights of other groups in Lanka, long neglected by the UN. We need help with clean drinking water. Somehow, three of the provinces adjoining the Central Province (tea country) have been subject to Chronic Kidney Disease (U.E.) some parts for nearly 20 yrs., and these provinces need help with clean pipe borne water. Clean Drinking Water is a Human Right. Please help us.

    Thank you.

  5. Lorenzo Says:

    This woman is the BIGGEST TNA election campaigner!!

    Tamils are ANYWAY voting for TNA in LARGEST numbers as they did to Tamil racist parties since 1947.

    BUT Pillai’s visit will bring out non voters to vote like old people who generally don’t go to vote.

    Injecting CONFIDENCE in TNA is wrong at election time.

  6. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    What stood our for me in this article is “It is under attack each time the Indian forces suppress the Kashmiris fighting for their right to hold a plebiscite underwritten by UN. Or when the Indian forces committed war crimes against the civilians in Jaffna in their war against the LTTE” That is a sharp needle in the body of the article that Sri Lanka can use regarding India’s “I know better than you” attitude with Sri Lanka and equally demand the UNHRC address the second part of that quote where the article claims “Indian forces committed war crimes against the civilians in Jaffna”.
    Considering Sri Lanka is facing similar charges pushed by India and formulated by the US then it appropriate to bring in India’s violations along the same lines.

  7. Lorenzo Says:

    Guess what! Endian child Dayan J has BEGGED NP to set up a permanant UNHRC field offfice in SL.

    What a bloody traitor we have!!

    If this piece of dirt has a long life, the lives of ALL SLs will be MISERABLE.

  8. S de Silva Says:

    Thank you HLD for the reminder of the past ‘(dis)graceful conduct’ of the UN! Remember this is a situation created by our own incompetency! Pillai should not have been permitted to investigate SL. I am NOT saying here that the UN should not investigate SL. Far from that. What I am saying here though is that the GoSL should have objected to HER, this PREJUDICED woman Pillai, and sought a UN substitute acceptable to SL as an unbiased person. That indeed is a right that SL, or any other country has, to be judged by an unbiaed person. Also, If she wanted to be seen as an impartial judge, she should have declined to hear the case due to the obvious ‘CONFLICT OF INTERESTS’ as any good judge would’ and ensured the UN appointed someone else. I am sad that our ignorant Foreign Office Donkeys just cannot handle anything properly and the only hope is that the vital issues highlighted in these columns by you and many others will be formally taken up by the GoSL with her as a matter of urgency – S de Silva – London

  9. Charles Says:

    Mahindapala,

    Enjoyed reading your article.

    The born again UN Human rights Commission is now not only dominated by the West, but they have also made UN a mere complement to their power block with its NATO Forces.

    They make the Security Council of the UN a cover to pursue their anti democratic determinations to keep the developing countries under their dirty thumb.

    We saw it in action in Libya where they obtained security councils approval to survey the Libyan air space, and used their NATO Forces to bombard Libya incessantly until they killed the Libyan Leader Colonel Gaddafi, in Iraq they did not even wait for a UN Security Council sanction to declare war against Sadam Hussain’s Iraq.

    They were planning such an intervention in Iran, but now Al -Assad of Syria is in their “collimateur” . There is little doubt that soon they will force their way into Syria with their NATO Forces, using a ruse to circumvent UN Security Council.

    Therefore however much Navi Pillai will try to maintain the Human Rights issue within the UN Norms keeping the Human Rights Council in the Moral Centre it is the West that is tilting it away.

    We saw it happening in the last session of the UNHRCouncil, how the West managed with India to support them to tilt the voting in their favour.

    Therefore we have to put up with this parallel Western power block tilting the moral centre of the born again UN Human Rights Council making Human Rights meaningless, a political game the powerful play against the weak and feeble

  10. Lorenzo Says:

    Assad didn’t use chemical weapons. It was SUNNI terrorists that used them.

    Now USA and UK are getting ready to attack Syria. UK controlled Cypress airport is flooded with bombers and 4 US warships near Syria. 4 more British war ships and submarines sailing towards it. TOMAHAWK missiles will hit the Islamic republic anytime now.

    Russia said it will NOT go to war with anyone over Syria. Bloody cowards. After Syria it will be Iran. Russia will be without any friends.

    Assad’s ONLY option will be to die as a HERO not a coward. To do that he will attack Issrael LIKE Saddamn Hussein. If Issrael hits back other Arabic countries will join in. Iran may also get involved.

    Grand war monger TONY BLAIR is beating war drums.

    SL should be ready with ENOUGH OIL AND GAS stocks.

  11. Nimal Fernando Says:

    Thank you, again, Mr. Mahindapala. As Mr. Mahindapala, Mr. Philip Fernando and many other authoritative, concerned commentators conclude: Sri Lanka must stand up to unwarranted, self-serving interference from
    any quarter.

    The UN, with all its commendable achievements, must face up to more than its share of double-standards
    and selective action …

    So I have a question to one and all, since I don’t have an answer: Is there enough of a mechanism within this
    global-dogooder itself to oversee any inappropriate behaviour among its many (too many?) officials. What
    oversight does it have over discrimination/bias/manipulation/criminality even! by such officials?

    If so, can Sri Lanka demand action in any such cases of discrimination/bias/manipulation/criminality even!?
    And if it is indeed possible, why has Sri Lanka’s elected government failed to do so, so far? ….

  12. Lorenzo Says:

    TNA uses PROFESSIONAL MOURNERS in Jaffna to HOWL when Pillai tours.

    LOW CASTE Tamil women weep at funerals for money. It is a practice in Tamil Madu and north of SL where Tamil Madu people live.

  13. Lorenzo Says:

    Saudi has offered Russia oil price control if Russia supports bombing Syria.

    Saudi barbarians have threatened to attack SOCHI winter Olympics in Russia next year using CHECHNYAN terrorists if Russia doesn’t support bombing Syria.

    Russia must hammer Saudi evils to dust.

  14. Lorenzo Says:

    Great minds think alike!!!

    Hours AFTER I said this some action on the front.

    A grim “urgent action memorandum” issued today from the office of President Putin to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is ordering a “massive military strike” against Saudi Arabia in the event that the West attacks Syria.

    According to Kremlin sources familiar with this extraordinary “war order,” Putin became “enraged” after his early August meeting with Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan who warned that if Russia did not accept the defeat of Syria, Saudi Arabia would unleash Chechen terrorists under their control to cause mass death and chaos during the Winter Olympics scheduled to be held 7-23 February 2014 in Sochi, Russia.”

    -eutimes.com

    This is NOT true because Russia has NOT officially made any such order. But it points towards the MOST SENSIBLE thing to do.

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