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”.
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.