Why is the West financing the Human Rights Council?

Below is my translation of a column that featured in Danish daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende on May 14th 2010. The column is written by Jacob Mchangama who is chief legal officer in the liberalistic think-tank CEPOS based here in Copenhagen. Jacob Mchangama is a certified lawyer and, furthermore, has a Master’s degree in human rights’ studies.

Denmark and the West, UN laughingstock (again)

Yesterday at the UN General Assembly new members were elected for the UN Human Rights’ Council. As you know, the Human Rights’ Council has since its creation in 2006 been a failure that undermines the same human rights that it was put there to defend. Come yesterday’s referendum and the fiasco is complete. Among the new members of the council are Qatar, Malaysia and to top off the tragicomic show, colonel Gadaffi’s Libya. These three countries are members of an organ charged with promoting:

“universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner” and which demands that the member states:”shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.

If you doubt whether these three countries live up to the highest standards, you can read about them herehere and here.

The most disparaging part about this development is not the fact that Gadaffi’s Libya now has a seat on what is officially the most prominent human rights organ in the UN. Here we already find a string of non-democratic states such as Russia, China and Saudi Arabia. The most alarming is that Western nations, including the EU, did not loudly and openly protest the continued watering down of the Human Rights’ Council. (Danish) foreign minister Lene Espersen (cons.) was nowhere to be heard and neither have any of her colleagues from other EU countries made statements. In Denmark’s defence we, as far as can be told, did not vote for Libya. But the Danish representative did, I am told, put a mark next to both Qatar and Libya.

Even worse off is the US. During the time of the Bush administration and former UN ambassador John Bolton, the US boycotted the Council because they did not want to legitimize an organ dominated by human rights violators. Furthermore, the Congress decided that no American tax-money should go to the Council. When Obama stepped into office there was great hope of a new dynamic and that the deadlock would somehow be broken. Instead the Americans have time and again demonstrated that Obama’s insistence on dialogue and consensus takes priority over any considerations for basic human rights. Along with Egypt, the Americans have thus sponsored a resolution that opens up for a ban on criticism of religion; refrained from resisting the OIC countries’ attempt to add a protocol banning “defamation of religion”; following yesterday’s referendum the Americans stated that the Council should not be judged on its members but on its praxis. Af if those two things were separate. The American Kumbaya-approach to human rights have had the predictable consequence that only the US and Western countries compromise on principles, whereas authoritarian states rake in the concessions.


The Malaysian government has held power uninterrupted since 1957. Apart from an increasing Islamization of Malaysian society, the government represses freedom of expression and of assembly. The best example of this is the imprisonment of former finance minister Anwar Ibrahim who had to spend six years in an isolation cell on trumped up charges when he fell from grace. Today, Ibrahim is a popular and outspoken opposition politician who should be the wet dream of the West of a leader in country dominated by Muslims. He – a devout Muslim – fights for democracy and human rights, including equal rights for Malaysia’s religious minorities who are under increasing harassment. I had the pleasure of meeting Anwar Ibrahim at the Oslo Freedom Forum last week where we both partook in a panel debate on human rights (see video here, 4:52 into the file, and here). For a man who has felt the wrath of the government on his own body – and these days is the target of a political trial where he, among other charges, is accused of homosexuality – Anwar Ibrahim exhibits an enormous amount of courage by criticizing the lack of respect for basic human rights in Malaysia. It is also significant that Ibrahim puts crucial emphasis on defending the individual freedom of conscience, such as Muslims’ right to leave Islam without consequences.


The West is by and large financing UN as it is, and thereby also the Human Rights Council. In the UN Charter it says that the UN should promote the respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms. As long as Western nations are paying to be dragged round the arena by dictatorships that could not care less about the purpose of UN, the joke is on the West. You have to ask yourself why we have to take part in and finance the Council when we are just going to hand it over to some of the worst states on the planet without a word anyway.


  1. @tas laptop online

    The guy who wrote this does not monitor this site, I only translated it. If you have something brilliant to say then you are welcome to post it here anyway. Perhaps other readers will be impressed. Take your best shot. Show us your deeper understanding of this topic.

  2. I guess it all depends on whose human rights are important here. Recently, here in Britain, terrorist suspects appealed against a decision to deport them back to Pakistan where, allegedly, they faced torture. They won and are now entitled to stay in Britain despite being a threat to national security. It could be argued that an aspect of the British government is put the human rights of the general population at risk because of this decision.

    Similarily, the US-Anglo invasion of Iraq left thousands of civilians dead and has completely transformed a largely secular society into one in which violent Islamic groups clash for power resulting in the deaths of civilians. If North Korea invaded South Korea in U.S. would in response obliterate the North arguing that the North had no right to invade and we would mention Human Rights and the right to freedom etc, etc. But when we do the invading it is to “uphold” these same rights despite the consequences. The concept of rights (and responsibilities) differs from culture to culture so there will never, ever be a good arrangement because it is so subjective. The U.N. is the best we have.

  3. If rights and responsibilities differ from culture to culture to such an extent that there will never, ever be a good arrangement, continuing to finance the UN is in fact paying for a bunch of dictators to be able to use the UN to attack basic freedoms around the world – in our name?
    Together the OIC, the Arab League and the African Nations command a majority in the UN general assembly. This means that the consensus on what constitutes human rights is gradually moving away from what European and like-minded nations consider to be right.
    In the words of a report written for the Canadian government on the subject of voting patterns in the UN:
    “there is a solidarity that people will maintain, even in the face of that which is manifestly not in their interest or even manifestly wrong. The larger value, for a lot of countries, is to stick together because they feel weak and powerless. They largely are, but… they seem to feel that if they can stick together, they at least have some kind of clout vis-à-vis the United States and the other powerful countries”.
    I wrote about this topic more fully here: https://globalcitizenblog.com/?p=791

    There is in fact an alternative to the UN club of dictators that I would like to promote: http://www.ccd21.org/ Council for a Community of Democracies.
    They may be almost completely anonymous but at least they don’t do any harm – and for that they have a lot more credibility in my book.

  4. @Jonas
    – Tas Laptop Online is spam. I can tell because
    a.) there are no linked videos in this post (so what is he talking about?)
    b.) They don’t mention anything specific

    – So I’m marking it as spam. I’m not sure how they got around the omnipotent Akismet program I have installed and a few others have defeated also. Oh well, that is what an administrator is for I guess.

  5. True. A great many of these nations will base their official ideology on their own moral codes, for example Islam or Christianity and their narrow-mindedness will fly in the face of human rights and freedom. For example, in Islam the penalty for apostasy is death whereas in secular Britain no cares what you are and most rational people see it as a load of superstitious mumbo-jumbo. We can see how the basic rights of women could differ in such circumstances. It might be acceptable in Iran to murder homosexuals if they offend Allah but in Spain it is against the law to murder people simply because of their sexual orientation. So maybe the U.N. is a waste of time. But wasn’t the point of it to impose Western liberal-democratic, even Marxist ideals on the rest of the world. The Allies founded the organisation as Victors so shouldn’t we prevent other nations having much of a say? The Cold War probably destroyed the idea that nations of completely different ideologies could get along when the victors couldn’t even get along with each other so maybe we should call it a day.

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