Bad and lack of recent karma sees USA voted out of the United Nations Human Rights Commissionl;
May 4, 2001 2:45 AM   Subscribe

Bad and lack of recent karma sees USA voted out of the United Nations Human Rights Commissionl; while Sudan and Sierra Leone stays on board the 53-nation commission running uncontested in geographic quota. Besides being a sign of Dubya's lacking diplomatic leadership, falling three votes short of securing one of the three seats reserved for the Western nations also means that, for the first time since 1947 America will no longer be a member of UNCHR.
posted by tamim (41 comments total)
I saw Joanna Weschler talking about this on the BBC a while ago, and was hoping someone would post it to MeFi (props to tamim). For those of you who aren't going to bother reading even one of those links but are going to go ballistic anyway, here's an excerpt:

"Joanna Weschler, the UN representative of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters news agency that many countries resented the poor US voting record on issues like land mines and the availability of Aids drugs.

"Washington has also regularly criticised the human rights record of other nations - like China and Cuba, which may have helped erode support for its cause.

"One diplomat at the UN, however, said the result was a surprise given America's arm-twisting power."

Are you surprised by this development? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?
posted by lia at 3:00 AM on May 4, 2001

The U.N. kind of lost its credibility (if it had one in the first place, that is) by putting Sudan of all countries in this 'Human Rights Commission'. Sudan is, after all, responsible for "massive human rights abuses committed by forces loyal to the government in the course of its 18-year civil war, as well as for the widespread torture, harassment, and persecution of opponents of the regime." Joanna Weschler, U.N. Representative of Human Rights Watch, put it mildly: "This is a rogues' gallery of human rights abusers". No wonder the U.S. isn't in it!
posted by frednorman at 3:03 AM on May 4, 2001

I use to be quite involved with Amnesty International.

The U.S has an atrocious human rights record for a western democracy (cough, cough, you completed its sale to big biz by electing Bu$h). Look at how facist your death penalty system is or the massive abuse of ethnic minorities throughout your history.

U.S governments have alwys been incredibly two faced about human rights. Usually using it as an excuse to treat other countries like crap. Your government always prefered order to what it labeled chaos (usually democratically elected maybe left-liberal leaning govs). So they always supported many horrendous right-wing dictatorships, esp. in South America.

The U.S not making onto the U.N Human Rights Commision is a good thing.
posted by Rips at 3:38 AM on May 4, 2001

What sad is that the Clinton Administration takes its full share of the blame for this. Take the land mine treaty as an example--how selfish of the U.S. to reject it. It's only right that the U.S. take some heat for its record. It's a good trend.
posted by owen at 3:58 AM on May 4, 2001

There are some things to consider before people jump into this with emotions and not facts.

1. America currently does not have an U.N. Ambassador. In 100 days Dubbya has failed to appoint anyone to that position. American allies in the UN are skeptical about promises made by low level deputies at the U.N. Mission. Rep. Nita Lowey (D.NY) indicated as such in the New York Times.

2. In recent weeks America has shown less commitment to diplomacy in solving global crisis (excluding the China incident.) Allies are getting mixed signals about American foreign and defense policies and are unsure of how to react.

3. The seats in the Human Rights Commission are allocated to various caucuses based on geography and economics. This is why you see Sudan being elected UNCONTESTED from its particular caucus. America could not have gotten that seat.

4. The geographic/economical quota was put in place to ensure a "global representation" in the CHR. If human rights track record was the sole qualifier for this commission, you won’t see many Asian, African or South-Central American countries in this commission.

5. Most caucuses elect their representatives in a combination of "understanding" and rotation. This is why India and Russia have been members of this commission since its inception. Until today, America too belonged in that club. American diplomats failed to secure three more votes or make sure that 4 countries did not run in the Western block.

6. America also failed to generate an "understanding" with its European allies, who could've only run three countries for the three seats. The continental European countries have become increasingly fearful of American foreign policy or lack thereof and the lack of leadership in key positions.

7. If you take a closer look at the votes, Saudi Arabia got 1 vote, even though they did not run. That is one vote America could've gotten, but failed. This shows that America is losing trust of its allies.

8. American allies did America in. America took their European allies for granted and failed to communicate with them properly. If the Europeans had assurance of strong American leadership, they would not have run 4 countries for the 3 seats.

9. Everyone secretly loves to shove it to America, friend of foe. (Why else would Israel spy on America?) This was a secret ballot. No matter how "surprised" all the ambassadors sound in their interviews, many of them knew for weeks that this would happen. Nothing in the U.N. happens overnight.

10. Bush-Cheney-Powell-Rice needs to regroup and not let Congress dictate what American U.N. policy should be. America still is the only super power. Everyone knows that too.

[Thanks Lia. I was surprised that this didn't show up at MeFi sooner. But, then again, I have seen quite a few major news items in the past week not make it into MeFi.]
posted by tamim at 4:49 AM on May 4, 2001

Was going to post this yesterday, especially after it led the BBC World Service headlines, but didn't want the "link-a-day" label. Cheers, tanim.

Amnesty's on the record as being disappointed with this decision. Yes, the US has a "do as I say, not as I do" reputation with regard to human rights, and the Bush regime hasn't done much to cement international alliances. But it's also a sign of the ability of states with even ghastlier records than the US to act in tandem, which can't be a good thing. What next, Burma on the commission? Anyone reminded of the League of Nations?

frednorman: for once, I agree, it's a rogue's gallery up there. Though Sudan's abuses against its population owe a lot to the complicity of oil multinationals, and we all know the relationship between oil and political expediency.
posted by holgate at 5:14 AM on May 4, 2001

It's also worth noting, though, that the UNHCR itself has come under fire from its own commissioner for being underfunded and ineffectual. Better that countries heed the reports of independent organisations, perhaps.
posted by holgate at 5:22 AM on May 4, 2001

This may be a good kick in the butt for the U.S. There has been some contention within the UNHCR regarding the U.S. role on the Commission. A few years ago ('97) I was working with a group that assisted the UNHCR. I was surprised to hear a Commission representative say the U.S. largely tends to ignore and avoid involvement in most human rights violations around the world.

I was surprised, in part as an extension of being uninformed by the U.S. media. This kicked my own butt to read more non-U.S.-based news. When I was studying in England in '88 I became accustomed to reading much better coverage of world events. Britain as a nation does not have the breadth of parochial news that the U.S. has, nor does the U.S. have the list of former colonies that the British still follow in their newspapers.

The major players in the U.S. media (aside from CNN, who seems to have decent international coverage) isolate the American public from having a world view, even a poorly formed world view would be an improvement. Fortunately there is the Internet, which makes reading the the BBC and other publications more accessible. The spread of the mega-bookstores has put international news in people reach also. Just pick up a copy of The Economist, while you may not agree with it views, it has articles on major international happenings that the U.S. media ignores.

At one point a few years ago the U.S. news agencies had a combined three reporters in Africa covering sub-Saharan news. Many, instances of human rights violations take place in Africa (I can not state proportionately), which never get covered or get only one article written and then the issue is dropped. There is no way for the public to have an opinion given this lack of information flow.

The U.S. political system largely responds to public force of opinion to change it from its rutted paths. If the public is not informed it is difficult to move the powers that are in place. We end up with politician like Rep. Hyde of Ill. stating the UNHCR action just shows how out of step international political organizations are with the times. The view of the world is changing as the global expanse seems to shrink with each passing day and countries, not only, can not afford to be isolationist there is a need for a body to mediate international actions.
posted by vanderwal at 6:08 AM on May 4, 2001

Explain to me how being on the UNCHR is a benefit to the U.S. The UNCHR is totally ineffective and can't even muster the courage to censure China for killing hundreds of their own people. Until the UNCHR is able to take stands on issues like Tianamen Square, it is just a big circle jerk.
posted by CRS at 6:41 AM on May 4, 2001

the point is not how it should be a benefit for the US, but what is US responsibility in the world. we should be on that commission. we should be _the_ leader in human rights, and we should be advocating for it. as it is, we're complicitous, apathetic, and ineffectual. it's a shame (regardless of the effectiveness of the commission).
posted by Sean Meade at 7:01 AM on May 4, 2001

Rips, I'm curious - what country do you live in? I'm no great defender of the US Government (which is not the same thing as the country called the US - the government does not really represent all of our various opinions), but there must be only a small handful of countries that are not guilty of some human rights violations. Now, I'm not a big follower of Amnesty International, so this is admittedly a statement mainly in ignorance, but I certainly would like to know.
posted by starvingartist at 7:06 AM on May 4, 2001

Sean Meade: I'd much rather see national governments take a step back from direct advocacy, because there's nothing like an accusation of hypocrisy to blur the message. And quite frankly, by comparison with the European nations elected to the commission, (if not the African ones) the US is in no position to take a stand without having to engage in doublethink.

Better, I think, to enable and engage with the reports of Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, and then use normal diplomatic channels to exert pressure on those states. After all, when we're having to discuss the effect of transnational corporations on human rights -- Balfour Beatty and the Ilusu Dam, Royal Dutch Shell and southern Sudan -- the structures of the UN are somewhat outdated.

So, the Commission on Human Rights suffers precisely the flaws of the League of Nations: but do you want to be on the outside, pissing in; or the inside, pissing out?
posted by holgate at 7:20 AM on May 4, 2001

this is long overdue.
posted by muppetboy at 7:28 AM on May 4, 2001

OH MY! How will I get to sleep tonight!?!
posted by thirteen at 7:30 AM on May 4, 2001

Look. The US isn't perfect, but the UN became a sham some time ago. Why should we really care about this?
posted by ParisParamus at 7:34 AM on May 4, 2001

Tis an unweeded garden.....This shows Dubya's lazy attidtude towards world affairs. If he had put some attention to it, and appointed an ambassador, this never would have happened.

Didn't Papa Bush give him some schooling in world affairs.

'Need to build a Coalition, Georgie....not actin unilaterly...New World Order.."

It's gonna be all he can do to even keep Tony Blair on his side (especially after Tony's done with his general election and doesn't need to look macho anymore.)
posted by brucec at 7:40 AM on May 4, 2001

Don't get me started. I had such a visceral reaction the one time I visited the UN & couldn't figure out why.

What it boils down to is that it should be this but it makes the US House look statesmanlike instead.
posted by elsar at 8:03 AM on May 4, 2001

we should be _the_ leader in human rights

We aren't fit to lead ... we don't even understand what it means yet.

As for the United Nations, it's been systematically subverted from its inception.
posted by Twang at 9:37 AM on May 4, 2001

Look. The US isn't perfect, but the UN became a sham some time ago. Why should we really care about this?

Because it shows how far the USA has rubbed its European allies up the wrong way with such policies as reneging on the Kyoto protocol and insisting on the national missile defence scheme.

Hmmm... all this about America being voted off makes me imagine Anne Robinson chairing the UNHCR...
posted by CatherineB at 9:48 AM on May 4, 2001

The U.S. being booted, Sudan and Sierra Leone stay? This is Comedy in its purest form.What evidence that this was a g-dub fowl up. Is this another attempt to make uncle sam look like evil uncle sam. The U.N lost its credibility after Cambodia(Nixon docterine in its purest form) Anyone who thinks the U.N. is organization that matters on this planet is still being led by the nose. Disbane the U.N, turn the u.n. building into a cattle exchange. Because anyone that where blue helmets and drive white vechiles is beyond the straw-dog anaolgy.
posted by clavdivs at 9:50 AM on May 4, 2001

I agree with thirteen and ParisParamus that this means nothing. I mean, who really cares? I was vaguely familiar with the Human Rights Commission before this so-called "scandal" erupted, but now, how is it such a great "shame" for the US to be kicked out? What did they do, really? I can only think of Serbia and Rwanda as examples of when I heard the Commission say or do anything, and even then, nothing happened: people still got killed, and no one cared. Face it, the world need to realize (if it doesn't already) that American in general, and conservatives in particular, are either indifferent, or hostile, to the UN. They couldn't care less about losing a seat on the Human Rights Commission.

It does remind me of a great quote by former President Carter: United States didn't create human rights. In a way, human rights created the United States.
posted by Rastafari at 9:54 AM on May 4, 2001

To a first approximation, "United Nations" is simply a euphemism for "United States". Clearly, if the US had wanted to be elected to the HR commission, it would have been.
posted by johnb at 9:55 AM on May 4, 2001

posted by alsaiz at 10:02 AM on May 4, 2001

The irony of watching people from a nation of immigrants take such pleasure in xenophobic activities like dismissing things that matter to the 96% of people that live outside their particular borders kills me, it really does.

Rastafari: "It does remind me of a great quote by former President Carter: United States didn't create human rights. In a way, human rights created the United States."

Um, you might want to visit this link Twang posted earlier. (where are you, sudama?)

posted by lia at 11:23 AM on May 4, 2001

Obviously, the US is the greatest violator of human rights the world has ever seen. But the US effectively controls the UN, so whether or not it is on the commission, it gets to more or less define what counts as a "human rights violation".

It's more about public relations than anything else. The UNCHR has no teeth, unlike, say, the WTO.
posted by johnb at 11:57 AM on May 4, 2001


I just thought that this was an appropriate site for that quote. I didn't mean for anyone (myself included) to take that at face value, as you should have been able to tell by my post. Carter made the statement, and I repeated it.

Besides, who the hell is AI to criticize the US? If the goal of AI is to ban death penalty from the US, they should know it AIN'T gonna happen.
posted by Rastafari at 12:56 PM on May 4, 2001

johnb said:

Obviously, the US is the greatest violator of human rights the world has ever seen.

Would you care to elaborate on this statement? I searched for a <sarcasm> tag, to no avail.
posted by syzygy at 1:15 PM on May 4, 2001

96% of people that live outside their particular borders

I keep seeing 96% pop up aroiund here lately. Is that a real number? Does the entire population of the US only equal 4% of the world's population?
posted by thirteen at 1:38 PM on May 4, 2001

thirteen: Off-the-top-of-my-head figures (225 million Amricans out of 6 billion worldwide) and back-of-the-envelope calculations put that percentage pretty darn close.
posted by harmful at 1:51 PM on May 4, 2001

Thanks Harmful, that seems wierdly low. We have a pretty big country too, everybody else must be living on top of each other.

BTW have you noticed the new Nonharmful running around here? I am afraid you two will meet up and post next to each other, causing a chain reaction that will blow the page apart. oh wait, that is matter and antimatter.
posted by thirteen at 2:04 PM on May 4, 2001

who the hell is AI to criticize the US? If the goal of AI is to ban death penalty from the US, they should know it AIN'T gonna happen.

AI applies precisely the same criteria to self-proclaimed "guardians and defenders of human rights" as it does to one-party states and military dictatorships. Which can be quite a painful examination, given irregular verbs such as "I detain for the public good; you have legal internment; he bangs up political prisoners".

Abolishing the death penalty worldwide is an aspiration (the sooner, the better, in my view); but Amnesty is more concerned with the generally accepted standards governing the use of capital punishment around the world. And given that the US is disturbingly fond of executing those who committed their crimes as minors; those with mental handicaps; or those provided with inadequate legal defence, I think their criticism is more than valid.
posted by holgate at 2:15 PM on May 4, 2001

thirteen, there's a whole world living outside of your borders, you oughta check it out sometime.

According to the CIA, the population of the USA is estimated to be 275,562,673.
posted by lagado at 10:46 PM on May 4, 2001

It's pretty funny that you Americans (I assume it's americans who've posted the last few posts) don't realise how minor your country is. I mean I'm from Australia - we know we don't mean shit. Population of 19 million, come ON! But you have to look at yourself. Yes, you are a total minority. 4%. Why should it be an issue if you're not on this committee? After all plenty of countries with larger populations aren't. And plenty of countries with a better human rights record aren't. It's time for America to recognise it's place - for too long the US has been a rich minority in a "superpower" position. Why do you feel the US should take "leadership" on human rights issues? After all, you're only 4% of the world's population. Wake up to the world outside your borders. Get a map of the world some time and explore it.
posted by Jimbob at 7:48 AM on May 5, 2001

By the way, that 4% of the population is also responsible for producing 25% of the pollution -- and that's not even counting U.S.-owned companies that do major polluting in the third world. Kind of makes you think.
posted by lia at 7:57 AM on May 5, 2001

jimbob, go re-read your roman history. forget it. then stick in an atomic bomb, a whole lotta INGENUITY, a small population in a big space, with a HUGE paranoia about being invaded and you will have gleamed THE BIG SAM.
posted by clavdivs at 6:41 PM on May 5, 2001

God, what a weird thread.

As for whether the U.S. is the "greatest human rights violator," it certainly doesn't need to be a competition, but as an empire in all but name we are in a class of our own.

I'll defer to Chomsky for the hardcore analysis, but here's a quick look at part of the problem: "U.S. aide tends to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments that torture their citizens. Such a correlation is also high where there is a strong climate for U.S. business investments. In other words, the better the climate for business, the more the aid, which is in turn achieved by the murder of union organizers, torturing priests, massacring peasants, and anyone else attempting to achieve 'democracy.'" (Randall Shelden reviewing a Chomsky speech)

Have you seen Men with Guns? You should see Men with Guns. (The linked article may spoil Men with Guns just a little bit.)

Now, I'd love to hear more about this THE BIG SAM.
posted by sudama at 12:20 AM on May 6, 2001

It'll be interesting, sudama, to see what kind of pressure (if any) is exerted on Mexico as its congress debates the settlement in Chiapas. If things stall, I fear that in 20 years' time we may be reading something akin to Chris Hitchens' indictment of Kissinger and the policy towards Allende's Chile.
posted by holgate at 4:40 AM on May 6, 2001

Lets turn our world view to Noam Chomsky, the intellectual alger hiss. I hate Chomsky and his wide-flung philosopical guesswork, he got Cambodia wrong and he got slammed for it, his criteria is no longer valid in my eyes. Besides america has appeared to hire out a lot of the human rights violations. Get someone else to do the ugly policy work. Non-americans dont relize that ...if some freelancer decides to erradiate lower Scranton. we bomb, and defoilate the first sniff we get. WHO IS GOING TO STOP US> tell me WHO. Maybe we as americans can be shamed a little more, get rid of this fake human rights front we have put up. IT MAKES ME SICK.
posted by clavdivs at 9:09 AM on May 6, 2001

clavdivs, would you mind taking things down a notch? You obviously have something to say, but letting whatever that is out as a rant renders it near unintelligible and us incapable of figuring out what you're trying to say.
posted by lia at 12:15 PM on May 6, 2001

It was just reported in that the United States now threatens to withold UN funding if their seat is not reinstated. I say GOOD. I don't like the Bush II administration at all, but that's nothing compared with such UN stupidity. F' the French. F' Sudan. Really.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:05 AM on May 9, 2001

(clicking sound, rush of steam) Well...sierra leone is probably the most dangerous place in the world...I have lived in the most dangerous part of america(murder rate per say) and I would not last one half hour even as a merc, the mercs do not want to go...It is like...the end of a warranty(gdubs'assention') have to start worrying. Thank you for the slap lia...anyone want to charter an old C-130.
posted by clavdivs at 5:32 PM on May 9, 2001

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