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UN Watch in the News

UN's 'noble dream' a nightmare
Steven Edwards
National Post, March 31, 2007

UNITED NATIONS — Some of the world's most heinous human rights abusers have made outrageous statements in succeeding human rights chambers of the United Nations over the years, and when the chairpersons at such gatherings subsequently thank the speakers for their diatribes, UN apologists say: "That's just UN protocol at work."

The apologists have some explaining to do following a Human Rights Council address by Hillel Neuer, a Montrealer who heads the Geneva-based UN Watch monitoring group.

Watch his video here.

Far from being thanked for his presentation, he was warned by council president Luis Alfonso De Alba of Mexico that if he ever addressed the chamber in such a "tone" again, his words would be struck from the record.

Did he offend? If you're a despot, you would have been burning with rage. If you're a democrat who actually cares about such concepts as fair treatment and human decency, you would have been nodding your head in agreement at Mr. Neuer's challenge to the council's claim to be an internationally relevant human rights monitor.

Mr. Neuer made hard-hitting references to the council's record since the UN General Assembly created it just over a year ago to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission, which had become infiltrated with human rights abuser states who engineered self-serving resolutions.

His presentation suggested the council is no better than the commission when it comes to denouncing human rights violations wherever they may occur.

He forcefully pointed out that only when it comes to focusing on Israel — a common target throughout the UN system for Muslim and anti-West blocs — is the council ready to condemn or chastise (something it has done nine times over the past nine months).

Because it is so blinkered, Mr. Neuer lamented, the 47-member council has turned the "noble dream" for justice of Eleanor Roosevelt, Canadian John Humphrey and other founders of the UN's human rights architecture "into a nightmare."

Countries on the council that global monitors such as Human Rights Watch say have poor human rights records include Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Canada has a seat until 2009, but the United States recently declined for the second year to stand for election to the body, saying it has "thus far not proved itself to be…credible."

Whether you agree or not with the substance of what Mr. Neuer had to say, any believer in freedom of speech would be alarmed by Mr. De Alba's admonishment.

True, Mr. Neuer will have touched the nerves of several council members and their allies as he illustrated his points by using such terms as "Middle East dictators," the "racist murderers and rapists of Darfur women," the "occupiers of Tibet," and the "butchers of Muslims in Chechnya."

But to put Mr. De Alba's admonishment in context, UN Watch has researched what others have said in the council chamber to which the body's president did not say: "I'm not in a position to thank you for your statement … I will not tolerate any similar statements in the council."

Playing on Mr. De Alba's charge that Mr. Neuer's references were "inadmissible," the UN Watch file is presented in a video available on YouTube titled: "Admissible and Inadmissible at the UN Human Rights council."

It and a research document show Mr. De Alba greets with thanks or otherwise allows speeches or acts in which:

- The Zimbabwe delegate calls his Finnish counterpart "ignorant" and accuses him of "astonishing and astounding hypocrisy."

- The Cuban ambassador describes a UN expert's report on abuses in Cuba as "libellous," and tells her directly: "There is … a significant contribution you can make, and that would be by quitting."

- The Palestinian representative says in reference to Canada and Louise Arbour, the Canadian jurist turned UN Human Rights Commissioner: "The one who has a monopoly on the violation of human rights is Israel … the darling of the ambassador of Canada and the darling of the High Commissioner."

- A Sudanese official says: "Incidents of violence against women have been exaggerated."

- The Nigerian ambassador says of attacks on homosexuals: "Death penalty by stoning for unnatural sexual acts … should not be equated with extrajudicial killings."

- The Iranian ambassador says in a letter that the Holocaust is a "historical claim," the "number of perished" is a particularly "legitimate question."

The video contains more examples -- concluding with Mr. Neuer's speech followed by Mr. De Alba's response.

A member of the New York bar who attended Montreal's Concordia and McGill universities, Mr. Neuer became executive director of UN Watch in 2004. Though affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, the group comments on a broad range of human rights issues, expressing "deep disappointment" at the council's "weak consensus resolution" yesterday on the human rights situation in Darfur.

Despite receiving an independent report squarely blaming the Arab-led government in Khartoum of being ultimately behind much of the Darfur violence, council members stopped short of endorsing the accusation.

Last month, UN Watch issued a report card on Canada's record on the council, charging it rarely speaks out against the worst global bullies. In joining the consensus yesterday on the Darfur resolution, Canada made no public statement before the council on that issue.

At least Ottawa doesn't risk being censored.

Click here to see the famous March 23rd UN Watch speech before the UN Human Rights Council, and click here for the Daily Invective that the Council President deems admissible.

Copyright 2007, National Post