Can the U.N. Distinguish Human Rights From Wrong?

By Joel Kaplan and Daniel Mariaschin

Published May 16, 2003, issue of May 16, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Several weeks ago the United Nations Commission on Human Rights opted yet again to defile its own mandate by inviting one the world’s foremost human rights abusers to rejoin its ranks in the upcoming 59th session. In a vote undertaken by the Latin American regional group, Fidel Castro’s Cuba was reelected without opposition to a coveted spot on UNCHR, as the rights commission is known.

The selection came following a month in which independent human rights organizations repeatedly denounced Cuba for what is being called the country’s worst crackdown on political opposition in 30 years, the highlights of which include the summary execution of three men who hijacked a ferry in a botched attempt to reach political freedom in the United States and the sentencing of 75 political dissidents to terms of up to 28 years in prison.

This absurdity is but a continuation of the farcical conduct witnessed at the recently concluded 58th session of UNCHR in Geneva, Switzerland. This year’s session marked the most egregious distortion of UNCHR’s mission to date as member states overwhelmingly elected chair none other than Muammar Gadhafi’s Libya — a rogue dictatorship that not only lacks a free press and an independent judiciary, but which also employs the most brutal tactics in repressing political opposition and is one of the leading state sponsors of international terrorism.

With the bitterness of the 2001 U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, still lingering on the collective Jewish palate, the Jewish world braced itself for another painful debacle — and with due cause. The openly antisemitic conduct of certain member delegations to this year’s UNCHR session proved once again that our low expectations for objectivity and fairness had been set far too high.

And yet, despite the well-financed and highly organized anti-Israel front, the session bore some historic fruit, due largely to the return of a cherished ally following a two-year hiatus from UNCHR — the American delegation under the leadership of Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick personified the best of American values by speaking out passionately for an end to the commission’s “obsessive criticism” of Israel. Similarly, when the overwhelming majority of member nations responded with deafening silence to Palestinian delegate Nabil Ramlawi’s call for the elimination of the “New Zionist Nazism,” the American delegation decried the equation of Zionism and Nazism as “inflammatory, repugnant and reckless language… which we though had been relegated to the dustbin of history with the ashes of World War II and the Cold War.”

Most significantly, the American delegation led a successful campaign, in the face of furious opposition from the Syrian and Libyan delegations, to amend a resolution calling for the elimination of all forms of religious intolerance to include the taboo word of “antisemitism.” At a time when a number of European governments have chosen to avert their gaze from the resurgent antisemitism in their midst, this achievement confirmed once again that in the community of nations, there is no greater friend to the Jewish people than the United States.

Unfortunately, American efforts, even in conjunction with the tireless activities of Israeli ambassador Yaacov Levy and the rest of the Israeli delegation, were insufficient to prevent the passage of five resolutions unjustifiably condemning Israel for human rights violations. Once again, Israel suffered the unmerited distinction of being the only nation singled out for a full week of special debate by UNCHR, even as notorious human rights abusers like Cuba, Iran and Sudan escaped censure entirely.

But steady pressure from the United States, Israel and Jewish organizations — including our own, B’nai B’rith International — did have a positive impact, generating an incremental increase in the number of countries voting in opposition or abstaining when anti-Israel legislation came to the floor. As yet, this progress is not nearly adequate, but it is perhaps an early sign of a shifting of the tide.

As much as some would like to wish the U.N. into irrelevance, the scope of the organization’s influence remains real. In spite of its manifold shortcomings, we must not grant our rivals the victory they seek in silencing the Jewish voice within the world’s most prominent international organization.

To the benefit of Israel and world Jewry, the United States remains immune to the malaise of moral relativism that has encumbered the judgment capabilities of so many other Western nations. In recent weeks, the revelation of unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by Saddam Hussein’s regime has confirmed the moral rectitude of the American-led Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is our hope that the Iraqi lesson will force a reality check on the international community, and that self-reflection will lead to a greater willingness to follow the moral leadership of the United States in the U.N. and specifically within UNCHR.

Joel Kaplan is president and Daniel Mariaschin is executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.