‘Kafkaesque’: New UN Human Rights Council mirrors abusive global village

Special to WorldTribune.com

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — In a riveting election for new members of the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly voted for 18 new members.

Yet, given that all prospective candidates were unopposed, the perfunctory ballot simply selected a list of states where everyone won, including some notorious human rights abusers.

The episode evoked a Kafkaesque irony. And it clearly underlined why the United States chose to leave the 47-member Council this past June. U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called the Geneva-based Council a “cesspool of political bias.”

There were few surprises after ballots were cast for the election of members of the Human Rights Council on Oct. 12. / Manuel Elias
There were few surprises after ballots were cast for the election of members of the Human Rights Council on Oct. 12. / Manuel Elias

While unopposed seats are common among the Council’s five regional groups, what delegates politely call a clean slate, the reality emerges that these annual elections are really selections.
Naturally, the usual political considerations of consensus, availability and presumed qualifications are sorted out behind the scenes. Sadly in recent years, “done deals” have stifled any hint of competition or dissent opinions.

“Yet this year there is not even the illusion of competition,” laments Hillel Neuer of the respected Geneva-based UN Watch. Neuer added that sadly the UN will be “rubber-stamping the election of Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Eritrea, the Philippines and Somalia, even though these regimes systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens…and consistently frustrate UN initiatives to protect the human rights of others.”

So here’s the new lineup for states gaining three-year terms starting in 2019.

Africa: The new members include Burkina Faso, Togo, Cameroon and Eritrea. Sadly, the African continent has suffered the wrath of oppressive and corrupt regimes. The current selections include chronic human rights abusers and entrenched authoritarian regimes. Cameroon wracked by corruption, ethnic violence against the English speaking minority, and an entrenched president ruling since 1982 despite fraudulent elections, sends precisely the wrong message. Freedom House allots Cameroon a Not Free rating.

But things get worse. Though the victim of Islamic Al Shabab militant violence, Somalia, a barely functioning state, also joins the Council. For over a generation Somalia was viewed as a “failed state,” which needless to say does not have functioning political and civil institutions.

Eritrea, a world class human rights offender in the same political league as North Korea (but happily without nuclear weapons), has also been elevated to the lofty clouds of the Council. Freedom House rates both countries as having a score of 3 out of 100 in the comparators of political and civil rights. Tragically most people know Eritrea for the large numbers of refugees,
mostly young educated people, fleeing from this former part of Ethiopia and into Europe.

Asia/Pacific: Here the new members include India, Fiji, Bangladesh, Bahrain and the Philippines. Both Bahrain and the Philippines merit the most attention. According to Freedom House the island state rates a pitiful 12/100 globally. The human rights monitor adds, “Once a promising model for political reform and democratic transition, Bahrain has become one of the Middle East’s most repressive states.” So they shall now judge others?

The Philippines needs no introduction. Happily the Philippines ranks 62/100 aggregate in rights and freedoms and indeed Freedom House lists the country as Partly Free. Tragically the undertow of corruption, a tainted judiciary and government supported extra judicial killings has tipped the scales on the Manila government.

Eastern Europe: Here both Bulgaria and the Czech Republic garnered seats. Though both states were part of the old Soviet Bloc, they regained their freedom after 1989 and now are members of the European Union. In earlier years, during the Vaclav Havel presidency, the Czech Republic, a highly ranked parliamentary democracy, was a respected human rights advocate from Cuba to China. But a new government in Prague has soft-pedaled China’s transgressions. Maybe because Beijing is a large foreign investor in the Czech Republic?

Latin America/Caribbean: The new members are the Bahamas, Uruguay and Argentina. No problem here as we have three very free countries; Uruguay ranks 98/100, higher than most European states.

Western Europe: New members include Italy, Austria, Denmark, all highly rated democracies. Austria ranks 94/100 and Denmark a sterling 97/100. Bravo!

Following the vote Ambassador Nikki Haley commented, “This lack of standards continues to undermine the organization and demonstrates again why the United States was right to withdraw from it earlier this year.”

And guess what? These new members shall join Afghanistan. China, Cuba, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia among others already on the Council. This uncontested indifference ultimately cheapens the Council’s standing. Yet ironically the real tragedy is that the Council may actually reflect the world more than we would care to admit.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]