Monday, June 25, 2018

US Withdrawal From UN Human Rights Council Is Cold War Caricature

The US having issues around 'inconvenient truths' on human rights being brought up at the UN is not exactly a new phenomenon. This cartoon from the height of the Cold War depicts then-US President John F. Kennedy facing off against then-Premier/First Secretary of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev.

It depicts a pretty common sort of exchange in those days - wherein the United States would issue some strident declamation of human rights abuses supposedly occurring within the Soviet Union ... and the Soviets would respond along the lines of "...and you are lynching black people".

In the early part of the 1960s, this was very much a factual statement. And it does disrupt somewhat both the then-current and more recent contemporary 'idyllic' self-image Americans have historically harboured of their own position as an upholder and champion of international human rights.

Although it is not exactly a new thing. After all, almost two hundred years beforehand, no less a personage than Dr. Samuel Johnson had proclaimed of the sentiments underpinning the American Revolution - "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

Another somewhat regular skirmish between the Superpowers is illustrated (literally, in this case, I suppose) via the other two 'cards' in Khrushchev's hand. Namely, the habitual Soviet response to allegations of the USSR propping up certain autocratic or otherwise 'nasty' regimes with poor human rights records ... through pointing out the American practice of doing exactly this for a range of international pariahs, where and as geopolitically convenient.

Indeed, while somewhat indicative of the sorts of regimes being countenanced as endorsable by the Americans at that point (and it is, perhaps, an open question as to whether things have gotten better or worse in more recent years with the ascent of Saudi Arabia et co into that position); if anything, a 'mere' two cards to cover this is a critical under-representation.

I mean, if we want to talk of eschewing sanction upon outright *monstrous* governments at the UN - it is probably rather important to note that the Americans *outright supported* the Khmer Rouge at this forum *for years*. As in, due in large part to geopolitical considerations (in particular a spiteful and needlessly vindictive desire for vengeance against Vietnam for *daring* to not lose their eponymous war of liberation against the Americans), the US actively protected the Khmer Rouge's international recognition and "legitimacy" at the UN - even continuing to do so for nearly a decade [from 1982-1991] following the Khmer Rouge's ouster from Cambodia and transition into the key/dominant part of a Cambodian 'government in exile'.

This is without getting into the US's shameful record both at the UN itself and in support of its allies (hilariously enough, at that point low-key including China) through the same forum in the context of the Bangladeshi Liberation War in 1971, which I've written about capaciously elsewhere. (Cliffnotes version: the Americans attempted to shield Pakistan from first criticism/scrutiny ... and then from an Indian intervention carried out to stop a genocide that killed millions of people, through a multifaceted array of UNGA and UNSC efforts; with US actions in that last arena arguably arcing toward the seeking of sanction for American-led military intervention *against India* (who let's remember - are the unquestionable Good Guys in this situation), before the Pakistani military collapse rendered further American assistance efforts pointless)

Or any of the dozens of other examples, in an ongoing pattern arcing right up through to the present day (and yes, including Israel), which show that this sort of 'deplorable' (indeed - outright hypocritical) conduct has been very much the 'rule' rather than the 'exception' in terms of American (mis/ab)use of the UN when it comes to rights-discourse.

With all of that in mind, we should perhaps be rather unsurprised about the apparent American stance of treating its ongoing participation in this international forum as something of a game - or at best, a pantomime performance in which certain 'motions' (of condemnation or reflexive countering, and suchlike) are gone through in order to deflect and deter from 'deeper' motivations being criticized or exposed.

After all, it has quite some experience at it.

Dr Johnson again: "Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."


As a contemporary addendum on this issue:

If the Americans were genuinely concerned about being seen to lend legitimacy to a human-rights body that was hypocritical in its ambit, then I would have expected them to raise this furore a few years back in 2016, when Saudi Arabia secured its ongoing position thereupon. Or its [Saudi's] success the previous year in attaining the chairmanship of the UNHRC panel which does the selection and appointing of independent experts to investigate rights abuses etc. Or perhaps a year later, when it somehow wound up chairing a related UN Commission on the Status of Women. Or its utilizing of its position on the UNHRC to block efforts to investigate the commission of war-crimes committed by a "certain country"'s forces in Yemen.

But, of course, this didn't happen. And as a point of interest, Nikki Haley's statement on the reasoning for the US withdrawal from the UNHRC, despite singling out a number of countries by name which were alleged to be worse than Israel as 'proof' that the whole thing was hopelessly biased .... somehow neglected to mention *at all* this ongoing series of near-farcical blunders as applies the noted American geopolitical ally (both on and off the Council), Saudi Arabia. Indeed, nowhere in the statement is Saudi Arabia even mentioned - presumably because the best tactic when it comes to 'defending the indefensible' is to attempt to distract the attention with something else entirely.

Gosh, it is almost like the US is motivated less by altruistic concern for the state of human rights in international affairs, and more by a combination of political point-scoring and endeavours to shield its friends from scrutiny or significant criticism.

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