Missing the Point on Human Rights

Grace Melton /

The Norwegian Nobel Committee held its annual awards ceremony last week in Oslo, where it intended to award the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese intellectual and human rights activist Liu Xiaobo “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” Still imprisoned, Liu was prevented from traveling to Oslo to participate in the ceremony, and his family and friends were denied permission to leave China and accept the prize on his behalf.

Also notably absent from the ceremony was U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who declined her invitation to the event, drawing further criticism of the U.N. leadership from human rights groups for its near silence on human rights abuses in China. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has been accused of muting any criticism of China’s human rights record in order to curry favor with the Chinese government, whose vote could block him from winning a second term as Secretary General.

Hypocrisy surrounding human rights issues is unfortunately a regular pattern at the U.N. and its various entities. Just last month the U.N.’s newly created gender entity, U.N. Women, elected the Islamic Republic of Iran to a seat on the executive board. Under Iranian law, women are not entitled to the same rights as men, and they suffer human rights abuses routinely. Saudi Arabia, another country with a notoriously bad record on upholding women’s human rights, was also selected to sit on the 41-member executive board.

Bringing a taste of the U.N. human rights apparatus home, the Obama Administration recently sent a delegation of 35 individuals—mostly employees of the U.S. Departments of State, Labor, or Justice—to be verbally flogged for the United States’ alleged human rights “abuses” before the Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review. Fifty six U.N. member states—including Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and Iran—took turns to question the U.S. delegation during the question and recommendation portion of the session, many of them denouncing the United States and its record.

For its part, the U.S. delegation spent much of its time emphasizing domestically controversial issues, such as promoting homosexual “rights” by seeking to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, and pledging to seek ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Fulfilling such promises—both unwise and unpopular at home—would compound the damage the Obama Administration has already done to American leadership in human rights in choosing to join the Human Rights Council.