Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China, Russia, Cameroon, Djibouti. What do these countries all have in common?
Yes, they are all systematic violators of human rights. Some of them, such as China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia, rank among the world's worst.
And yes, as the morally blind, collectivist perversions of the United Nations so richly allow, they are all candidates either for election or re-election to the 18 seats opening up this year on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Such is the crowd the U.S. now seeks not to beat, but to join, in pursuing a seat for itself among the total of 47 slots on the Human Rights Council. The Obama administration has already entered the U.S. into the running for one of the three-year seats. The final step is a vote scheduled for May 12 in the U.N. General Assembly, which oversees the Human Rights Council.
For a number of reasons--some rooted in U.N. procedure, some involving the prestige and millions of taxpayer dollars the U.S. brings to the table--it's likely Obama will get his wish for U.S. membership. That would reverse the Bush-era policy of refusing to give this erstwhile "human rights" gang the stamp of legitimacy American participation confers on U.N. conclaves.
What then? Based in Geneva, the Human Rights Council is the U.N.'s chief body charged with defending and disseminating human rights around the globe. As such, it has been targeted, captured and manipulated with special zeal over the years by the worst violators, first in its incarnation as the U.N. Human Rights Commission (which disgraced itself by electing Libya as its chair for 2003) and since 2006 in its "reformed," renamed, but unimproved reincarnation as the Human Rights Council.
Throughout, this U.N. outfit has focused far less on defending human rights than on perverting their very definition. Like the commission before it, the council has focused on shielding violators, such as Cuba and Sudan, while attacking democracies such as the U.S. as well as the U.N.'s chronic target--Israel. Not only is this no favor to Israel and the U.S., but in countries such as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and their large fellowship of tyrannical kin, this short-changes genuine victims of human rights abuses.
In some Utopian dream world, President Obama's decision to now "engage" with the Human Rights Council might work out fine. All hail the visions of Obama's envoys striding into this brothel to schmooze with the abusers, beat them at their own game, and with enough charm and money--and a few reprimands here and there--clean the place up.
The reality is a lot less promising, starting with the mix of American money and self-flagellation that Obama has already sent to the table. In an April 22 letter to the president of the U.N. General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockman (himself an ardent supporter of Iran's rights-crushing mullah-ocracy), Obama's cabinet-rank ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, in declaring America's candidacy, threw in a grab-bag of goodies right up front.
According to Rice's letter, a big feature of the U.S. joining the Human Rights Council will be an open invitation for the U.N. to evaluate the record of the U.S. itself. Not that the U.N. stints on that to begin with--at the U.N. overall, there have been more actions in recent years condemning the U.S. than condemning say, Zimbabwe, China or Saudi Arabia. But in keeping with Obama's hallmark mode of apologizing to the world for the democracy that elected him president, Rice makes a number of explicit offers.
The U.S. welcomes universal reviews by the Human Rights Council of individual country records, she writes, and "looks forward to the review in 2010 of its own record." The U.S. believes that the international community is entitled to expressions of concern about the human rights situations in any country, she notes, "including our own."
This might sound all very equitable, and in U.N. procedural terms, no doubt it is. But it has almost nothing to do with human rights. In the U.N.'s despot-dominated chambers, "human rights" are not a function of such basic principles as right and wrong; instead, "human rights" are amorphous, negotiable, and can mean almost anything.
The phrase has come to include the U.N.'s eco-agenda and demands by despotic governments for whopping dollops of "development aid" from democracies like the U.S. The Human Rights Council recently twisted its own mandate far enough to produce a resolution on "defamation" that was designed to gag free speech on religion. Translated from U.N. jargon into plain English, it is a ban on a much-needed global debate about the nature and direction of Islam.
One might suspect that, as an intelligent woman, Susan Rice knows that the U.N., soaked in moral relativism and systemically hostile to free societies, has less than nothing to contribute to the U.S. in the way of upholding human rights. She is offering a concession, an invitation for America's enemies, working through the U.N., to come inspect and try to remold America's way of life.
To further sweeten America's candidacy, Rice's letter also listed some of the money the U.S. plans to fork over in connection to U.N. "human rights" activities. This includes $8 million for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, $8.4 million for related voluntary funds and a reminder of another $192.4 million for human rights efforts administered through U.N. outfits such as UNICEF, the U.N. Population Fund, and so forth.
Unfortunately, the U.N. is a rigged house, long accustomed to taking U.S. money and spending it with no accountability and negative results. Even in the 15-member Security Council, the U.S. is hamstrung, sharing its permanent veto-wielding status with the undemocratic likes of Russia and China.
When it comes to votes in the General Assembly, or at bodies overseen by the General Assembly, such as the Human Rights Council, Washington gets the same number of votes as, say, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China or Cuba. Thus, for example, did the General Assembly in December 2007 approve for itself a record-breaking budget, almost one-fourth to be funded by the U.S., with a vote of 142 to 1. The lone naysayer, hopelessly outvoted, was the chief moneybags, Uncle Sam.
Can America expect anything better as a member of the Human Rights Council? Don't bet on it. For starters, don't think for a moment that the U.S. candidacy will crowd out any of the violators now in the running, such as China, Cuba or Saudi Arabia,or even some of the less outrageous but still questionable candidates, such as Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Senegal.
How can that be? Well, at the U.N., most "elections" bear no resemblance to democracy as free societies understand it. The boring bilges of U.N. process are terrific breeding grounds for an array of world-class monstrosities. That's how the U.N., putting protocol ahead of such basic principles as right and wrong, handed the stage to Iran's holocaust-denying and U.N.-sanctions-defying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as lead speaker at the Durban Review conference on "racism," held in Geneva in April (which was organized under the auspices of the same Human Rights Council on which the U.S. now wants a seat).
In allocating seats on the Human Rights Council, the U.N.'s top priority is not respect for human rights, but deference to geography. The 47 seats on the council are, above all, apportioned by region. Africa and Asia get 13 seats apiece, which together gives them a controlling majority. Latin America and the Caribbean get eight; Eastern Europe six; and Europe and "other states" (such as America) get seven. Within these regional blocs, candidates "campaign" by submitting written "pledges" to the General Assembly president--and horse-trading behind the scenes.
In next week's "election," the U.S. within its allotted bloc is one of three countries running to fill three seats--the other two being Norway and Belgium. Saudi Arabia and China are among some of the other countries running within blocs in which there is no real competition at this stage. There are as many seats as there are candidates. Guess who's going to win.
Among the U.N.'s 192 member states, the U.S. gives more hard cash, offers more hospitality and provides more credibility to the institution than any other country. The cynical response of the so-called international community, during both Democratic and Republican U.S. administrations, has been for self-interested states to hop aboard this vehicle as free-riders, and for the least scrupulous to hijack it for whatever purposes they choose.
For decades, during the Cold War, this setup turned the U.N. into a nest and conduit for Soviet spying and agitprop. Since then, the fattest free-rider steering the agenda has been the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference--which, in tandem with the Sudan-led Group of 77, tends to dominate the General Assembly.
Can Obama overcome all that by sending America, cash and concessions in hand, to the pow-wows of the Human Rights Council in Geneva? Or will the eminences assembled there chiefly snicker at Obama's charm, pocket the U.S. tax dollars, and use America's resources to attack the values on which American democracy is based?
Here's a test. We'll know Obama's "engagement" is succeeding at the U.N. Human Rights Council when it starts cranking out more condemnations of China, Cuba, Sudan, Iran and Saudi Arabia than of, say, America and Israel. Can anyone in the Obama administration give us a target date for when we might expect that?
Claudia Rosett, a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes a weekly column on foreign affairs for Forbes.
Jean-Noel Kapferer and Vincent Bastien's ''The Luxury Strategy.''