GA renews UN rights chief who was wrong on China, Iran and Israel

Despite serious questions about her record, Navi Pillay was today given the longest term of any UN rights chief in history when the UN General Assembly unanimously decided to extend her 4-year term, set to expire at the end of August, by another two years.

UN Watch is among more than 38 human rights groups that have  questioned Pillay’s record in taking on the most powerful blocs and repressive regimes.

Soft on China: When jailed human rights hero Liu Xiaobo was given the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, Pillay gave in to Chinese pressure and declined an invitation to attend the Oslo ceremony, falsely claiming that she needed to be at a low-level Geneva event — one to which she didn’t bother to show in other years.  Then she added to the dissembling by saying she was never invited.

Ignored Iran: Ms. Pillay failed to issue any public statement in response to the well-documented violence against demonstrators in Iran following the June 2009 presidential elections. Her first comment appeared three months after initial reports and video evidence of government-backed paramilitary forces arbitrarily arresting, beating and killing protestors were released. Her welcome call on the Iranian government to “release those detained for peaceful protest, to investigate reports of their ill-treatment, and to ensure respect for human rights” was made only as part of her traditional opening speech at the UN Human Rights Council session in September 2009. She did not give a press conference and chose not to issue a dedicated statement on the matter.

Endorses Arab-Islamic Assault on Israel: Contrary to the principled statements made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon an her predecessor, Louise Arbour, Pillay has vocally supported the dictator-dominated UN Human Rights Council’s policy of maintaining a permanent agenda item against Israel — alone of all 193 member states — at every council session.

In 2010, I wrote her the following:

….Because your office is independent, we would expect you to speak out against these manifestations of demonization, disproportionality and double standards [against Israel].

Astonishingly, however, it appears that you are doing the opposite.

During your visit to Kuwait last week, as reported by the Kuwaiti News Agency,  you justified the Council’s unequal treatment of Israel, stating that, “While the occupation continues, it (item 7 on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories) will remain on the agenda.”

This followed a similar statement you made, on March 11, 2010, before an Italian parliamentary committee. When challenged on the council’s one-sided approach toward the Middle East, you defended it, saying, “the occupation must end in order to remove Israel from the agenda,” and implicitly compared that situation to apartheid South Africa.

Your argument is essentially that the special agenda item is automatically triggered by an objective set of facts, and is therefore natural, logical and legitimate.

Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

If occupation were the trigger, why did the old Commission on Human Rights never institute an agenda item on the Allied occupation of Germany, which officially lasted until 1955, and that of Berlin until 1990?

Why was there no agenda item, from 1948 to 1967, when Jordan illegally occupied the West Bank, and Egypt illegally occupied Gaza?

Why was there never an agenda item on China’s half-century occupation of Tibet?

No, there is nothing about Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza—the result, we remind you, of a defensive war—that explains this special agenda item.

If it were dictated purely by objective human rights concerns, why does the Human Rights Council not have a special agenda item on Sudan’s killing and rape of hundreds of thousands of Darfuris, on the killing of an estimated five million in the Congo, or on the millions of victims suffering today in North Korea’s prison state—all of which exponentially surpass the Palestinians’ own casualty count?

No, the sole cause of the special agenda item on Israel is UN politics. It was adopted by the council in a post-midnight decision on June 19, 2007, under massive pressure by the oil-producing Arab and Islamic states—supported by an automatic majority that included China, Russia and Cuba—while vigorously opposed by the democracies.

In statements delivered before and after its adoption, traditional supporters of human rights opposed the agenda item as biased. The UK said that “the practice of ‘singling out one’ risked undermining the Human Rights Council’s own principles.” France “regretted that the agenda was imbalanced by the singling out of Palestine, which was contrary to non-selectivity.” Australia and the Netherlands expressed similar objections, describing the agenda item as “unhelpful.” Canada said the Council breached its own principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity. Targeting any UN member state, said Canada, was “politicized, selective, partial, and subjective.”

Even leading officials of the UN condemned this agenda item. During the 2006 reform debate, the UN Department of Public Information published a chart called “Commission on Human Rights versus Human Rights Council: Key Differences.” It candidly described this item as “the Agenda Item Targeting Israel,” and boasted that the new council would instead feature a “clean slate.”

When things turned out otherwise, on 20 June 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon—under whose direction and authority you are mandated to work—denounced “the Council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item, given the range of human rights violations throughout the entire world.” Likewise, in a letter to Canadian lawyers,  your predecessor, High Commissioner Louise Arbour, criticized the agenda item as being “selective.”

Civil society was equally clear. A statement by 38 NGOs, delivered on 22 November 2005, insisted that the new council rationalize the items of its agenda based on the principle that “every Member State is entitled to equality before the law.”

Finally, it is important to note that one of the reasons that the U.S. has joined the council is the desire to influence the upcoming 2011 review of its work, in which removal of the biased agenda item is a central U.S. goal. In her confirmation hearing, new U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe made it clear that “Israel is the only country that has a standing item on the agenda at the council,” and pledged to “work to get rid of that.”

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