12 April 2007

11 April 2007 - South Africa's UN reversal

A few weeks ago, I suggested that Hillel Neuer of UN Watch might have done well to consider a “more in sorrow than in anger” approach to the UN Human Rights Council. Now I think he could have been even more strident than he was. Anne Bayefsky reports that Iran has been re-elected to the vice-chairmanship of the U.N. Disarmament Commission. Forget foxes and henhouses; this is beyond metaphor.

Meanwhile, according to Bayefsky, the UN Human Rights Council got around to considering Iran’s human rights record. But it did so behind closed doors, rather than expose Iran to the hyper-scrutiny the council applies to Israel. And the man who threatened to strike Neuer’s statement from the record, chairman Luis Alfonso de Alba, apparently made the following outrageously absurd announcement:

One,…the Human Rights Council has in closed meetings examined the human rights situation in…the Islamic Republic of Iran…Two, the Human Rights Council has decided to discontinue the consideration of the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran…Three,…members of the Human Rights Council should make no reference in the public debate to the confidential decisions and material concerning [the Islamic Republic of Iran]…


Bayefsky gets the date wrong—she surely meant March 26, 2007 and not March 26, 2006 as indicated—but the quote seems to be accurate. Iranian state TV reported: “The United Nations top human rights council in Geneva has voted to end routine inquiries on Iran and Uzbekistan.” The Iranian report also notes: “the suggestion [to end the inquiries] was put forward by Azerbaijan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.”

Another prime example of the topsy-turvy morality of the UN is the behavior of South Africa, which has a seat on the UN Security Council for the next two years and presided over the Security Council last month. South Africa’s performance was aptly depicted by cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (“Zapiro”)—whose cartoons on Israel are awful, but who gets a few issues exactly right:





So far, according to South Africa’s official opposition party, South Africa has opposed a non-binding resolution condemning human rights abuses by the military regime in Burma; prevented the Security Council from debating the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe; tried to shield Iran’s nuclear program from international sanctions; and abstained from a Security Council resolution criticizing North Korea.

In addition, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, South Africa has voted to protect Sudan from criticism over its actions in Darfur. And in the UN General Assembly last year, South Africa was absent from a vote on a resolution condemning Holocaust denial. The government has offered various excuses and explanations for its behavior, none of which has been convincing in the least.

The irony is that the present South African government spent years in exile marshaling the moral force of the UN and the international community to intervene in apartheid South Africa. Now that it has won its freedom, South Africa seems to have little interest in helping other people win theirs. It has simply exchanged one set of rogue allies for another, keeping up relations with the world’s worst tyrants.

This Thursday, April 12th, South African Opposition Leader Tony Leon will address an audience at Harvard Law School, at the invitation of the Harvard African Law Association. His topic will be South Africa’s foreign policy at the UN and beyond. It’s an event I’ve been working hard to organize, which is why I have to cut this blog entry a bit short, but I’ll post a link to Tony’s speech as soon as it becomes available.

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