Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Only the United Nations can provide legitimacy ...

Here's something to think about. US Isolated in Opposing New Human Rights Body

The United States is being reduced to a minority of one in its unyielding opposition to a proposal to create a new Human Rights Council (HRC) to replace the U.N.'s existing much-maligned Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

On the opposite side of the aisle are strong supporters of the proposal -- an overwhelming majority of the U.N.'s 191 member states -- including the 25-member European Union, the 114-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing nations, plus virtually all of the key U.S. human rights organisations. ...

One of Bolton's demands is that the new Council should elect its members by a two-thirds majority, making it increasingly difficult for "habitual human rights abusers" such as Sudan, Zimbabwe and Burma to find a seat. ...

South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo has a different take on it. Asked about the U.S. stance, he told reporters that "this is not a quality issue".

"The United Nations is not an apple factory assembly line where you can pick up a clean one and throw out the under-ripe and over-ripe ones," he said.

He pointed out that there is no mechanism in the United Nations where member states could be barred for some reason or another.


The concept which holds that what happens inside a country is of no concern to anyone else is sometimes called the opacity of sovereignty. When Saddam was gassing the Kurds it was an "internal matter" in which no one had a right to meddle; but the merest use of US violence against insurgents is regarded by some as unacceptable violence. Not because the violence itself is unacceptable but because it's a violation of  club rules. The UN, as Sudanese activist Simon Deng says, doesn't necessarily mean it's there to 'do something' for the people Darfur. It's there to help states.

It has been remarked, not entirely without reason, that if Hitler hadn't invaded Poland and simply proceeded to gas the German Jews, the act would have fallen wholly outside the purview of international law. Anyone who thinks this unlikely should consider Cambodia. The Killing Fields? Who cared?

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has never forgiven the UN for permitting the Pol Pot regime to occupy Cambodia's seat at the UN 10 years after it had been ousted in 1979 by Cambodian and Vietnamese forces. In a May 15 speech the prime minister recalled that "when the Khmer Rouge was killing Cambodian people, the Khmer Rouge had a seat in the UN, and the UN kept allowing the Khmer Rouge to remain there until the Paris Peace Agreement" of 1989.

The Cambodian prime minister raised the issue of the Khmer Rouge genocide many times in the 1980s, but it fell on deaf ears at the UN and in the West. It is a source of bitterness to many survivors of the Killing Fields that the UN never showed any interest in prosecuting the leaders of the Pol Pot regime until 1997. The UN has never apologized for this chapter in its history.

Nor was the US innocent in this shameful episode; it supported the Khmer Rouge in it's bid to keep a UN seat. Ben Kiernan notes that:

China, the United States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), all supported Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in various ways. The Great Powers opposed attempts to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice. No country in the world could be found to file a case against them in the World Court. The Khmer Rouge held on to the Cambodian seat in the United Nations, representing their victims for another fifteen years even though they were openly accountable for their crimes. Rather, international aid poured into their coffers, abetting their war to retake power.

The reason for the Khmer Rouge's absurdly prolonged legitimacy was of course the Cold War, in which China and the US took sides with Pol Pot against Vietnam, which backed by the Soviet Union, committed the cardinal sin of attacking across an international border. That struck near to the heart of governments. Since the fundamental unit of citizenship in international law is the State, not individuals, deaths even in their millions, so long as they are taken within the blanket of sovereignty, are simply incidental. The fundamental problem with entrusting "human rights" to the UN is that this organization serves the interest of governments who may not necessarily give a fig for the lives of their own citizens. As South African Ambassador Kumalo pointed out there is inherently no "quality" test for membership in the Human Rights Council. By the same logic, the Human Rights Council has not the quality to presume competence over "human rights".

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