STOCKHOLM — For Sweden, my homeland, the United Nations is a sacred cow. But today, many Swedes, like others around the world, are having second thoughts. Three events incited these doubts. The first was the slaughter in Rwanda a decade ago of more than 800,000 people within 100 days — probably the fastest genocide ever. The well-documented fact is that Kofi Annan, then the U.N.’s deputy secretary general, ordered U.N. soldiers in Rwanda not to intervene or protect the victims. Why Annan, after this enormous failure, was then promoted to secretary general of the U.N. remains a puzzle.
Doubts about the U.N., and Annan personally, have been compounded by the scandal within the U.N. administration concerning the Oil for Food Program. Although reports have so far not implicated Annan directly, his management failures are abundantly clear.
The third — and perhaps the most disillusioning — scandal concerns the Commission on Human Rights, for it lays bare much about the structural and permanent lack of balance and morality within key U.N. agencies. Most people assume that this commission exists to promote human rights and democratic freedoms. Yet some of the worst human rights violators are commission members. These enemies of freedom are permanently silent about torture, oppression and mass murder carried out by their fellow dictatorships, but are quick to rant against the world’s democracies, in particular the United States.
The recent “high-level panel” report on the future of the U.N. was right when it said: “We are concerned that, in recent years, states have sought membership of the commission not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves from criticism or to criticize others.”
So, finally, the truth is emerging. After more than a third of a century at the U.N., even Annan has come close to admitting that the Commission on Human Rights is a source of shame.
Is it reasonable to elect a pyromaniac to the board of a fire department? Of course not. So why is it that tyrannies like Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe are members of this commission? Recent members also include Libya, Vietnam, Congo and Syria — the Libyans were even elected chair-country. How can this be?
About half of today’s U.N. members are democracies; the other half are not. So totalitarian or authoritarian states — more interested in hiding their own oppression than fairly judging other nations — can easily trigger a sort of political pogrom against any democracy that annoys enough tyrants. Sadly, many free countries seem utterly indifferent to the ongoing campaign against Israel.
To prevent such vicious absurdities from continuing, the world’s democracies must unite to prevent any country that systematically violates human rights from being allowed to be a member of the Commission on Human Rights. Ongoing democratization in regions that have known only dictatorship provides hope that the balance is tilting in a way that will enable at least one U.N. body to incarnate freedom.
Who should decide whether a country is democratic or not? A tremendously respected independent think tank, Freedom House, is, like the U.N.’s headquarters, located in New York City. Freedom House is led and advised by experts on 190 countries. Political rights and civil liberties are rated from 1 to 7 for each country, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free. The designation of countries as “free” (1-2.5), “partly free” (3.0-5.0), or “not free” (5.5-7.0) is determined by combining these ratings.
Freedom House monitors developments over time and makes its conclusions public in its “Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties.” If there is one book that should be compulsory reading for anyone who makes public statements about human rights, this is it.
So the goal of all free countries should be that only other free countries are allowed seats on the Commission for Human Rights. Regimes that are “partly free” or “not free” should never be elected or appointed, for the only governments with the moral legitimacy to review and criticize human rights records are those that came to power through free elections and that can lose power when a new election defeats them. Those who have attained power through violence and fraud are not legitimate and should never cast more shame on the U.N. by belonging to this commission.
Unfortunately, most democracies are often unwilling to fight against the perversion of the Human Rights Commission. The European Union represents 25 democracies and often inspires countries to seek their freedom, as it has in Ukraine and Lebanon. But the EU’s habit is not to defeat the U.N.’s extremists, but to make strange compromises with them. As a result, rogue states make a few concessions to get the Europeans and others on board and then claim moral parity with the democracies.
Free peoples everywhere should remember that totalitarian forces and ideas cannot be defeated by being nice and accommodating. The Commission on Human Rights must rid itself of members that detest freedom. Otherwise, the sole U.N. agency that concentrates on freedom will be nothing more than a handmaiden to tyranny.
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