‘A CORRUPT UNHRC” – US Ambassador to UN
Posted on August 2nd, 2017

Courtesy  The Island

The UNHRC which has passed many now well-publicised strictures on Sri Lanka, two of them more recently, with the active co-sponsorship of the present government, is once again in the news. The so-called Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (with a small contingent of 15 M.P.s supporting him, which itself is a complete travesty of established parliamentary democratic conventions, not being the largest opposition group), has recently made a statement that “Sri Lanka is bound to implement the UNHRC Resolution (on alleged Human Rights (HR) breaches during the terrorist-mounted civil war against successive democratically elected governments, supported by his TNA), and it cannot be repudiated by Parliament; and called for full and expeditious implementation of the Geneva Resolution”.

But in international politics, the wheel seems to have turned full circle, as it often does. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in New York wrote an op-ed article in the Washington Post, the premier daily in the nation’s capital on Sunday 4 June 2017, with the above title – “A Corrupt UNHRC” – prominently displayed. The Ambassador followed this up immediately with a visit to Geneva where she addressed the UNHRC which is in session, an uncommon event in the agency’s history, as well as made a hard-hitting speech, critical of the UNHRC as it is now functioning, at an Institute in Geneva on the same visit.

In the op-ed article referred to earlier, the Ambassador questioned the very UNHRC membership of countries such as Venezuela and Cuba, and charged that the agency is responsible for upholding the highest standards of HR; and added that a U.S. Senate sub-committee had met last month to consider whether the U.S. should remain a part of the UNHRC. She added that the question was whether the UNHRC actually supports HR or “is merely a showcase for dictatorships that use their membership to whitewash brutality”.

The following noteworthy points were also made in the U.S. Ambassador’s article:

  1. When the UNHRC focusses on HR instead of politics, it advances important causes, eg. North Korea.;
  2. Very often, however, “the victims of the world’s most egregious human rights violations are ignored by the very organization that is expected to protect them”;
  3. The United Nations “must reclaim the legitimacy of this organization (UNHRC), which has been given a great responsibility”; because the presence of multiple HR-violating countries in UNHCR has damaged its reputation as well as the cause of HR; and
  4. UNHRC membership should be determined through competitive voting, instead of regional blocs nominating candidates like now.

The powerful U.S. Foreign Relations Committee, now dominated by the Republican majority in the U.S. Congress, has recently also discussed whether the U.S. should continue to play a role as a member of UNHRC The current U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has questioned whether, if the UNHRC did not reform itself, the U.S. should consider withdrawing from membership.

The critical HR situations were in Syria, D.R.Congo, Venezuela, Belarus and Ukraine. It is noteworthy that Sri Lanka has fallen off this priority list of alleged HR violators. It seems to have now been realized that UNHRC member countries allow politics to infect voting resulting in selective actions and partisan outcomes. The million dollar question arises whether Sri Lanka was, therefore, a victim of international politics, and if the Government capitulated too soon by co-sponsoring politically-motivated Resolutions brought against this country?

The issue also arises why there has been this sudden turn of events. Some guidance to hazard an answer to this question may be provided by past events that are reported by the U.S. media, and still accessible on the internet. When the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan disbanded the precursor agency to the current UNHRC in 2005, he blamed the agency’s ‘credibility deficit’ for that decision, because the world’s worst HR violators became HRC members to protect their policies. When the current ‘reformed’ version of UNHRC was announced in 2006, the U.S. under the George W. Bush administration refused to join it, until President Obama came to power in 2008, and the U.S. re-entered UNHRC with a 3-year membership term, leaving the current administration holding the bag. (Fox News, 5 June 2017).

Now, the current UNHRC has become “a forum for politics, hypocrisy and evasion – not a forum for conscience – and political manipulation, rather than human values. The agency tarnished the cause of HR. The UN must act now to reclaim the legitimacy of human dignity. U.S. wishes to re-establish the Council’s legitimacy”. (Geneva speeches referred to earlier).

U.S. media also reports that a personality among the top management of UNHRC injecting himself actively into the recent U.S. election campaign, and backing the losing candidate in the November 5, 2016 U.S. election, may have contributed substantially to the turn of events narrated earlier. It is reported that on 15 April 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio the same personality had delved into U.S. election territory and focused on “the crucial election for leadership of this country (USA) and characterized the front-runners in the election as “engaged in calls to hatred”.

On 12 October 2016, it is reported that a press conference at UNHRC had turned into a partisan political talk-fest. These several efforts to influence the U.S. election had been questioned at a U.S. State Department briefing immediately thereafter.

US media have traced alleged links between UNHRC management’s connections, a Middle Eastern Royal family and the Clinton Foundation. Published comments also indicate that in the expectation of a Clinton win in the November 2016 U.S. election, UNHRC’s top managers expected to “win a big pay day for the UNHRC office”, having published an annual appeal for 2017 to increase the UNHRC budget by a huge 33% increase ($234 million to as much as $360 million) in this year. The U.S. is the largest voluntary contributor to the agency.

In conclusion, a principal issue which the above narrative of recent reported events raises is whether the U.S. – being the largest regularly assessed as well as voluntary donor of funds to the UNHRC – will continue to legitimize a human rights body with a “well entrenched anti-Jewish and anti-Israel agenda”, given past as well as present U.S. foreign policy. In fact, the current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. complained in Geneva during her recent visit that the UNHRC had focused disproportionately against Israel by passing seventy Resolutions against it. Opinions can differ widely on this particular highly politicized and sensitive issue.

We leave it to the reader to decide what lessons for Sri Lanka this sudden turn of political events in the international arena may leave the two anti-Sri Lanka Resolutions passed in a U.N. agency, which has recently given a 2-year reprieve to a small island nation which was victimised, and whose caretakers doubtless supported these actions. This saga is symbolic of the disastrous effects a multilateral HR agency can cause to turn the clock back on racial reconciliation and developmental progress, by diverting the attention of the authorities from other existential matters. It is also an object lesson for the responsible authorities. An important world power has become extremely critical of this agency to the point of seriously considering whether to terminate its membership in it.

R de S

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