ZOA Criticizes Obama/Clinton Joining Israel-Bashing U.N. Human Rights Council
April 1, 2009

Bolton & Ros-Lehtinen Criticize U.S. Action

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has criticized as a mistake the intention of the Obama Administration to seek a seat on the Israel-bashing United Nations’ Human Rights Council, which was announced this week. The U.S. is virtually assured of election to the one of only 7 seats reserved for Western states. African and Asian states exercise a controlling majority with 26 seats.

The policy reverses the stance of the Bush administration, which viewed the Geneva-based Council as irredeemable for its almost exclusive focus on human rights violations by Israel. The Human Rights Council was established in March 2006 to replace the Human Rights Commission, whose credibility had suffered because of the membership of noted rights abusers, including Zimbabwe and Sudan. Since its creation, the Council has passed 33 resolutions, of which 26 are critical of Israel. It has also eliminated investigations into human rights abuses in Belarus, Congo, Cuba, Liberia and Sudan, the latter the scene of an on-going genocide in its Darfur region. The Bush administration refused to join the new council but initially agreed to fund it and be an observer. It later withdrew.

The Obama Administration has defended the move to join the Council, even while conceding that the Council has failed to emerge as a powerful champion of human rights and has devoted excessive attention to alleged abuses by Israel and too little to abuses in places such as Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Sudan’s Darfur region.

In recent years, regional blocs in the 47-member organization, particularly Asia and Africa, which together have 26 votes, acted en masse to minimize scrutiny of countries like Zimbabwe. The 47-member council replaced the Human Rights Commission after an outcry over countries like Libya, which led the commission in 2003 but had a history of abuses like assassinating government critics. Critics of the council have said, however, that the problems had carried over from the first body to the next, and that dividing the regional blocs was unworkable.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy … With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system to advance the vision of the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights.” (Colum Lynch, ‘U.S. to Seek Seat on U.N. Human Rights Council,’ Washington Post, April 1, 2009).

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said the Obama Administration believed that by working within the Council, the United States could influence members of regional groups and would be the most effective means of altering the Council’s habit of ignoring poor human rights records of member states. “We do not see any inherent benefit as demonstrated by recent history in being outside the tent and simply being critical without having significant influence.” (Neil MacFarquhar, ‘In Reversal, U.S. Seeks Election to U.N. Human Rights Council,’ New York Times, April 1, 2009).

Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, John R. Bolton, took issue with Ambassador Rice’s statement saying, “That strategy did not work under the old Human Rights Commission and it won’t work under the Human Rights Council … You don’t show up at every ragtag little organization that comes into existence.” (Neil MacFarquhar, ‘In Reversal, U.S. Seeks Election to U.N. Human Rights Council,’ New York Times, April 1, 2009). He was also quoted as saying of the decision to join the Council, “This is like getting on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg … It legitimizes something that doesn’t deserve legitimacy.” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the “decision surrenders the strongest leverage we have to force changes in the council.” (Colum Lynch, ‘U.S. to Seek Seat on U.N. Human Rights Council,’ Washington Post, April 1, 2009).

ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “This decision to dignify and legitimize a thoroughly immoral, corrupting and obsessively anti-Israel institution like the U.N. Human Rights Council will not do the U.S. credit and will fail in its aims to affect substantive change in the operations of the Council. Indeed, insofar the Obama Administration truly tries to affect change in the Council, it will bring confrontation with other powers that the Obama Administration is at pains to avoid. This seems to suggest that any U.S. efforts to effect positive change will be half-hearted, inconsistent or otherwise compromised.

“Recently, the U.S. made the counter-productive decision to participate in the Durban II Conference proceedings. U.S. participation there did not result in it vigorously challenging the hateful, anti-Semitic agenda of the conference organizers and the U.S. has withdrawn for the moment. What reason is there for thinking that, in the Human Right Council, a permanent U.N. body, unlike Durban II, in which the anti-democratic, anti-Israel majority is equally strong and entrenched, the Obama Administration will either try harder to effect change or be more successful?

“In all probability, the net result of the U.S. joining the U.N. Human Rights Council will be to legitimize its continued operation as a body hostile to democracy, human rights and Israel. For that reason, we urge the Obama Administration to reconsider this step. Should it nevertheless end up joining, it should adopt a strict timetable in which to assess the prospect of change and demand results, failing which it should withdraw.”

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