By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
Colombo, February 8: The United States is presently encouraging the “Core Group on Sri Lanka” to proceed against the island nation on the war crimes accountability issue at the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). But the US has itself had nasty brushes with the Council both in the recent and distant past.
The US had quit the UNHRC in 2018 alleging bias against its ally Israel. It accused the Council of turning a blind eye to some other countries which violate human rights brazenly while passing resolution after resolution against Israel.
Nikki Haley, the then US Ambassador to the UN, said that the Council had become a “cesspool of political bias” and added: “Our commitment (to human rights) does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.” Haley accused the Council of not heeding US advice on reforms. “Human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the Council,” she pointed out.
She further said: “The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny and the council continues politicizing and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks. For too long the human rights council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.”
Haley noted that the UNHRC had failed to hold a single session on Venezuela or Iran. “When a so-called human rights council cannot bring itself to address the massive abuses in Venezuela and Iran, and it welcomes the Democratic Republic of Congo as a new member, the council ceases to be worthy of its name,” she said.
However, by quitting, the “world’s oldest democracy” and the world’s principal upholder of human rights in the international arena, the US had joined Eritrea and North Korea which had also opted out of the UNHRC.
The US itself has come under criticism for its questionable human rights record. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had described the treatment of migrant children at America’s borders as “unconscionable.” After mass protests in State after State in the US over police brutality against the Blacks, UNHRC turned its attention to America in a big way. The Council took up the issue of “systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests” following a request from all 54 African countries in the UN. These countries highlighted the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a White police officer on a street in public view.
The African resolution called for an independent International Commission of Inquiry into “deaths of Africans and people of African descent” in the US with the aim of “bringing perpetrators to justice.”
Adam Taylor of The Washington Post quotes E.Tendayi Achiume, a Zambia-born Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles, as saying that the UNHRC needed to act against the US as racism there had become “a human rights crisis of existential proportions.” Achiume, who serves as UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, wrote for the news website Just Security further said: “ The domestic legal and policy regimes that ought to be relied upon to put an end to this crisis have never been able to do so.”
During the recent Black Lives Matter movement the family of the murdered George Floyd had sought UN intervention. “I want people across the world and the leaders in the United Nations to see the video of my brother George Floyd, to listen to his cry for help, and I want them to answer his cry,” said his brother Philonise Floyd in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union
Complaints of bias and hypocrisy against the US had dogged the country from the time of the “UN Human Rights Commission”, the forerunner of the UNHRC. Way back in 1947, a year after the UN Commission came into being, the then US Ambassador Eleanor Roosevelt had walked out of a commission meeting when W.E.B. Du Bois, the famous American sociologist and rights activist, appealed to the UN to consider the plight of African Americans. The excuse trotted out by Roosevelt for walking out was that the Soviet Union would use the event to undermine the US.
More recently, the Trump Administration had moved to sanction prosecutors and officials from the International Criminal Court (ICC) who had taken an anti-American stand. While asking other countries to subordinate national interests to human rights interests, the US has always acted in its own national interest when it came to human rights. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had praised the then US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, for upholding US national interests on rights issues.
The comment of Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) on the US withdrawal from the UNHRC was telling. He said: “The Trump administration’s withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else.”
Long Way To Go
The US itself has a long way to go in the field of human rights, though Joe Biden’s election as President is clearly a healthy sign giving much hope. But his task is none too easy. As Kenneth Roth of HRW put it: “Trump had empowered white supremacists, acted to undermine the democratic process, and fomented hatred against racial and religious minorities. He also closed his eyes to systemic racism in policing, removed legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, revoked environmental protections for clean air and water, and sought to undermine the right to health, especially for sexual and reproductive health and older people.” And Trump emphatically stuck to carrying out executions, while the rest of the Western democracies were seeking a ban on executions.
Kenneth Roth goes on to point that Trump’s record abroad was also sordid: “He cozied up to one friendly autocrat after another at the expense of their abused populations, promoted the sale of weapons to governments implicated in war crimes, and attacked or withdrew from key international initiatives to defend human rights, promote international justice, advance public health, and forestall climate change.’
“This destructive combination eroded the credibility of the US government even when it did speak out against abuses. Condemnations of Venezuela, Cuba, or Iran rang hollow when parallel praise was bestowed on Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Israel. Support for religious freedom abroad was undermined by Islamophobic policy at home.”