With the Assad regime murdering hundreds of protesters, it’s patently grotesque that Syria might get a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. And yet, when the General Assembly votes on May 20th on candidates for the Human Rights Council. it looks like Syria will be a shoe-in.
How can that be? At the UN, process trumps human rights, and despots are too often adept at playing that fundamental flaw like a fiddle. Syria’s regime is no exception. Seats on the 47 member Human Rights Council are doled out mainly on the basis of geography, rather than decency. Various geographic groups enjoy specific allocations of seats, and nominate members to rotate through as the seats come open. This year, four of the 13 seats apportioned to the Asian group are up for grabs, and the Asian group has nominated exactly four candidates to fill them — India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Syria. With four candidates for four seats, all Syria needs is a simple majority of 97 votes in the 192-member General Assembly. Are there that many members of the General Assembly willing to vote aye in this Orwellian exercise? Quite likely. When Libya ran for a seat in 2010 (from which it was only recently suspended), it got 155 votes. In 2009. Saudi Arabia got 154 votes, Cuba got 163, and China got the same number as the U.S. — 167.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon — loquacious in such matters as his defense of terrorist-run Gaza, or his desire to see democracies in dialogue with North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Il — has declined to opine on Syria’s bid for the Human Rights Council. Ban’s spokesman told Fox News that this is not Ban’s bailiwick, but a matter to be left to UN member states. The U.S. State Department opposes Syria’s bid, but does not yet seem to have any clear strategy for blocking Syria, and evidently has not yet managed to persuade a fifth and preferably benign member of the Asian group to enter the running — which would dim Syria’s chances by introducing at least some real competition.
So, what to do? Even before Syria’s bid for a seat, this same Human Rights Council was already busy grossly discrediting itself. Back in 2003, its precursor, the Human Rights Commission, became an emblem of UN farce by electing Libya as its chair. The Commission was “reformed” in 2006, into the current Human Rights Council — which the Bush administration refused to join, on grounds that its structure was skewed toward capture by the usual gang of despots. President Barack Obama over-rode that policy, and in 2009 the U.S. joined the Council, arguing that it would be easier to work for change from within. That did nothing to stop the Council from indulging in such bigotries as the Goldstone Report; or its continuing engagement with 9/11 conspiracy theorist Richard Falk, its special rapporteur on human rights for the Palestinian territories; or Libya’s Najat Al-Hajjaji, whose chairwomanship of the old Human Rights Commission in 2003 did so much to discredit that precursor of the current Council. Russia, China, Cuba and Cameroon are all active current members of the Council. Now, here comes Syria.
If the U.S. won’t walk out, then maybe the next best solution would be not just to go with the flow, but strive to accelerate the Council’s natural trajectory. Grease the skids so the Council can complete its descent into the moral abyss. Why not try moving the Council itself? There’s no reason such members as anti-colonialist Cuba or church-averse Saudi Arabia should have to put up with the alien values implied by housing the Council, with its lavish meeting chamber, in stolidly European, church-filled Geneva. Nor is it fair that delegations of the world’s despotisms should be tempted to bank their savings chiefly in Switzerland. Give others a turn. Syria wants a seat? Give Assad the entire table. Move the Council to Syria.
Though, in the interest of the geographic fairness that so concerns the UN, it would be wrong to stop there. If the UN deems Syria worthy of a seat, it would be rank bias to wall out the likes of Myanmar and North Korea. Invite them to join, too. Nor should Asians have all the perks. Give Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe his due. If the UN deems it fitting to allocate rotating seats on the basis of geography, then why not rotate the location of the Council itself? Send it to places where it could fit right in. Base it one year in Damascus, the next year in Pyongyang, then move it along to Rangoon, Harare, Khartoum and Tehran. One of two things would happen, each useful in its way. Either the democracies of the world would finally write off the Council as the fiasco it is. Or in one of these places — Syria does come to mind — oppressed people, demanding genuine human rights, might seize the chance to break in, take over the proceedings, and give truth to the longstanding lie that this Council has any serious affiliation with human rights.
Related: Don’t miss Richard Perle on “The UN Human Rights Charade.”