Sunday, January 15, 2006

NYT editorial on UN Human Rights Commission reform

The New York Times, 10 January 2006, editorializes against the Bush administration's proposals for the reform of the UN Human Rights Commission. Here. The Times is not opposed to the goal of reform, even radical reform, of the Commission, but instead opposes the way Ambassador Bolton and Bush administration are seeking to go about it - pressure, for example, on the budget process of the UN as part of overall pressure for reform. In this editorial, the Times particularly criticizes the Administration proposal that Security Council members automatically have a seat on the (reformed) Human Rights Commission (or Council, or whatever it turns out to be called).

I think the Bush administration is right on this one. It is not because Security Council members are incapable of being serious human rights abusers - of course they can be, witness China. And of course it is true that the Bush administration is seeking to ensure that the US always gets on, whatever other countries may think of Guantanamo, detention and interrogation policies, etc. However, at some point, the realities of power, signified by the Security Council, have to meet idealism. A Human Rights Council that consisted entirely of Swedens and Costa Ricas would not be a very good idea. It would quickly become irrelevant. I understand the Times' point - but think it is outweighed by the need to have engagement by countries that are not the worst violators, but have power even if they have power, meaning China and Russia. And a Human Rights Council that did not include the United States, because of, say, complaints over its anti-terror policies? Mark Steyn would think this a terrific idea - but that's because he thinks the UN ought to be ineffective - presumably that's not the NYT's position, but that would be the only real result of something as shortsighted as that.

(I also think it wildly disingenuous for the Times to claim in its opening that it has long been saying that the Bush administration generally has the right substantive agenda on UN reform. Really? On the contrary, it has been sniping and ankle biting for several years, down to its laughable editorials essentially brushing away the whole oil for food scandal. Its editorials on UN reform typically read as though someone from the SG's office came over and dictated the thing to the folks on West 43rd Street.)


New York Times
January 10, 2006

Wrong on Human Rights

For months, we have been arguing that the Bush administration has generally the right substantive agenda for badly needed changes at the United Nations, but that Ambassador John Bolton's scorched-earth alternative to diplomacy is undermining the prospects for successfully achieving these reforms. Now it turns out that our criticism has been only half-right in at least one crucial area - in restoring the United Nations' moral authority on human rights by excluding egregious violators from a new human rights monitoring council. Mr. Bolton's latest proposal on this gets the substance wrong as well.

The problem with the current discredited Human Rights Commission is that its members are chosen by a system of regional rotation that fails to take into account the actual human rights performance of prospective members. The reform was originally intended to change that, by requiring the approval of at least two-thirds of the 191 member countries to win a seat on the new council.

Mr. Bolton wants to defeat the whole purpose of that reform by automatically assuring seats for all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - regardless of their own human rights records.

That would, of course, guarantee a seat every year for the United States, despite what other countries may think of Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the death penalty, or Washington's practice of secretly flying suspects to be interrogated in countries that countenance torture. It would also guarantee a seat every year to China, one of the world's most notorious human rights violators, and to Russia, whose own human rights record is less than stellar and which has never hesitated to gloss over the human rights abuses of dictatorships it considers friendly, like Cuba, for example.

There are plenty of areas where special weight is, and should be, given to the Security Council's big five powers, which also happen to be world's five legally recognized nuclear weapons states. Most of these areas, appropriately, are in the Security Council's special domain of war, peace and sanctions.

But the issue of human rights is very different. It is not about recognizing the interests of the powerful. It is about protecting the interests of the powerless. It would be nice if all of the big five could be trusted to do this. But not all of them can, either at home or internationally. Some of the people most in need of a strong U.N. voice on human rights live under tyrannies that have carefully cultivated Chinese or Russian favor: Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe, to name a few.

Although Ambassador Bolton has repeatedly made it clear that he has little use or respect for the United Nations and would be happy to see the United States walk away from it, we have never questioned his commitment to reform its most dysfunctional institutions. But his behavior on this issue leaves us questioning his judgment, and that of his bosses in the State Department and the White House.

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