The Rosett Report

Cuba (UN-Libre) in the Spotlight at the UN Human Rights Council

If that sounds promising — as in, maybe the UN is finally zeroing in on Cuba’s gross violations of human rights — think again. The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council has just picked a new chairman for its Advisory Committee, an 18-member body of “experts” who come together as a “think tank” to help guide the Council’s work. This being the UN, naturally they picked a Cuban.

And no, this UN-anointed mentor of human rights is by no stretch a Cuban dissident. He’s 73-year-old Miguel Alfonso Martinez, a former Cuban diplomat and former spokesman for Havana’s foreign ministry. His expertise in human rights includes running interference at the UN for the regime of Saddam Hussein after the Halabja MassacreReporters San Frontieres records that faced with “the images of the bodies of five thousand Kurdish women, children and old men lying on the ground in this ghostly area drenched with nerve gas,” Alfonso Martinez’s move at the old UN Human Rights Commission was to co-sponsor a “no action” motion.

Under the umbrella of the UN Human Rights Council, Cuba is also currently serving as rapporteur for the committee now preparing a nasty reprise of the anti-Israel, anti-U.S. 2001 Durban conference — which got so ugly that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell pulled out the U.S. delegation. The preparatory committee for Durban II, scheduled for next year, is chaired by Libya’s Najat Al-Hajjaji (who in 2003 chaired the UN Human Rights Commission) and features such star planners as Russia and Iran.

Recall that this is the work of the new, “reformed” UN Human Rights Council, set up to replace the old, utterly discredited Human Rights Commission. This was advertised by the UN at the time as one of the crown jewels of Kofi Annan’s final round of “reforms,” and hailed in a UN press release as an “historic” achievement, approved in the General Assembly by an overwhelming vote of 170 for, and only four against (those four holdouts being the U.S., then represented by Ambassador John Bolton; and Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau).

If you can stomach any more of this stuff, the stalwart, Geneva-based UN Watch has recently put out a report, “The Right to Name and Shame,” evaluating the performance of former UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour, who just stepped down after four years as the diva of this UN human rights choir. UN Watch goes to great lengths to be fair, and gives Arbour credit for her criticisms of a few of the world’s worst regimes, including Burma, Zimbabwe and Sudan. But Arbour, while also criticizing the U.S., and lambasting Israel, “was silent, or spoke out no more than once, on systematic human rights abuses committed by China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, and on those committed by Egypt, a powerful player at the UN.”

There’s more, much more, including some illuminating tables in the report. But here’s the money quote: “Most troubling of all, Arbour published no statements at all for victims of 153 countries, including many with human rights situations that range from poor to appalling, such as Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burkina Faso, North Korea, Gabon, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Vietnam and Yemen.” 

Wow. Nothing at all on North Korea. Nothing on Saudi Arabia. Nothing on Syria. Nothing on Libya. Oh, and according to the tables in the report, nothing on Cuba, either. Which, with its new chair on the Advisory Committee, brings us back to where we tuned in to this latest episode of Your UN at Work: The Human Rights Council.