As America withdraws from the United Nations Human Rights Council, critics are no doubt busily preparing their condemnations. They will say that America is backing away from its responsibilities and isolating itself from the world. As liberal opinion already loathes President Trump, it will doubtless enjoy having something else to attack him for.
You don’t have to agree with all of Trump’s policies, or even like him at all, though, to think that America has done the right thing. Whatever criticisms you might have, America is a beacon of justice compared with some of the nations whose current or recent presence disgraces the UNHRC. Consider the record of some of those countries that the UN has charged with defending human rights. Let’s start with Cuba. The NGO Human Rights Watch points to its continued repression of any political dissent, using arbitrary detention, brutal imprisonment and the denial of basic freedoms. Or Rwanda: again from Human Rights Watch, both the military and police use arbitrary arrest and torture against government critics. And just one more – though I could go on – Kyrgyzstan, where for security forces ‘impunity for ill-treatment and torture remains the norm’.
The shocking conduct of its own members should be enough to ensure that everyone recognises just how shabby and hypocritical the Human Rights Council has become. But it displays its capacity for double standards most in its treatment of Israel, becoming a vehicle for the most strident anti-Israeli bias. Even those who might disapprove of Israel should question why it has become the only standing item on council’s agenda, picked out for special attention. Yet the conduct of some truly vile regimes such as Venezuela or Iran (and there are plenty of others of course) often goes unremarked.
Or consider the HRC’s condemnation of Britain for its post-Brexit ‘racism’. Its Special Rapporteur, Tendayi Achiume, with all the authority of a two-week visit, informs the world that ‘the structural socioeconomic exclusion of racial and ethnic minority communities in the United Kingdom is striking’. Ms Achiume sees us as a deeply racist country. Perhaps she needs reminding that Britain is a country where millions of people of different races have chosen to live and where doubtless millions more from overseas aspire to do so. And through our subscriptions to the United Nations, British taxes are helping fund this idiocy. If the HRC wants to find real racism, there are plenty of countries where straying from the zones allowed to your own ethnicity will often mean a violent death.
As America’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley puts it, the council has become a ‘protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias’, and American membership has only served to give it respectability that it doesn’t deserve.
But the membership standards of its Human Rights Council isn’t the only example of ludicrous hypocrisy the UN has given us. Nothing can compete with its admission of Saudi Arabia to its Women’s Rights Commission, a body whose official aims include ‘shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women’. This really is Alice in Wonderland.
If the various UN agencies limited themselves to co-operation between countries on purely practical matters or issues such as the prevention of conflict in emergency situations, the UN would deserve our full support, even if that did mean having to co-operate with unpleasant regimes. But it has moved beyond that, becoming a theatre where thugs and dictators can show off and polish their prestige and slap each other’s backs. And let’s not even get started on UN corruption.
The UN still works in parts and some of it should still be defended, but certainly not all.
Although we might allow equal value to all humanity, we emphatically should not allow it between all regimes. But the UN gives equal status to its peaceful democratic members and the downright wicked ones, such as the demented theocrats of Iran who cheerfully call for the annihilation of another UN member state, Israel. You might have hoped that the UNHRC would consider that was quite a striking human rights issue, let alone an indication of just how flawed and in need of reform the wider UN has become, but apparently not.
America was right to withdraw from the UNHRC. Perhaps it’s time for all democracies to question much more closely exactly what their participation in the various functions of the UN means. International co-operation is a fine aspiration but it doesn’t mean Western governments should abandon standing up for decent standards or accept the bad behaviour and hectoring of dictatorial regimes. John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the UN, was once much derided for claiming there would be no ill effects if someone lopped the ten top floors off the UN headquarters in New York. Perhaps he was right.