Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Re: The Moral Rot at the Core of the Human Rights Community

I’d like to add to Noah’s excellent post yesterday, in which he described how the “human rights community” has become infected with the moral rot of tolerance for terrorism. First, this particular moral rot isn’t confined to a few NGOs; it pervades the entire system of what is fondly called “international law” – which is why no self-respecting democracy should grant international law any credence.

Consider, for instance, a recent statement by one Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh: “The expulsion of Hamas from Jordan in 1999 was a political and legal error. I will tell you openly, when the expulsion took place, I opposed it.” Khasawneh is Jordan’s new prime minister, and if that were all he was, the statement wouldn’t be shocking. But he also spent more than a decade as one of the 15 judges on the International Court of Justice, including three years as the court’s vice president, and before his first nine-year term expired in 2009, he was reelected to a second.

In short, the world’s highest court included a judge who sees nothing wrong with blowing up buses, pizzerias  and Passover seders  (at least as long as the slain women, children and senior citizens are Israelis), and therefore thinks it was wrong to have expelled the perpetrator of these atrocities. While almost every democracy worldwide has declared Hamas a banned terrorist organization, the distinguished judge thinks Hamas’ expulsion by his own country was an “error.”

This is merely one symptom of the larger problem with international law: Because it by definition encompasses the whole world, every country has an equal voice in it; a terror-exporting theocratic dictatorship like Iran has equal weight with a model democracy like Denmark. And because most of the world’s countries are not exactly enlightened regimes, their outsized influence frequently distorts “international law” into something no actual supporter of human rights ought to touch with a 10-foot pole – like a judge on the world’s highest court who can say without shame that he sees nothing wrong with mass murders of civilians.

Yet, there’s an opposite form of rot that’s almost equally troubling: moral purism. Take, for instance, the recent failure to negotiate a treaty restricting the use of cluster munitions. The draft treaty was successfully opposed, inter alia, by disarmament groups, the Red Cross and UN development and human rights agencies, because it imposed fewer restrictions than a 2008 convention already signed by 111 countries. Sounds reasonable, right?

Except that the major users and producers of cluster munitions, including the U.S., Russia, China, India and Israel, all refused to sign the 2008 treaty, but were willing to sign this one. The countries that didn’t sign the earlier treaty hold some 85 percent of existing cluster munitions, and the new treaty would have sharply reduced their stockpiles. As the U.S. noted, it alone would have destroyed more cluster munitions under the new treaty than were destroyed by all 111 signatories of the 2008 treaty combined, potentially saving many lives. But the moral purists would rather save no lives than accept a less-than-ideal solution, one that sharply reduced cluster-bomb carnage rather than ending it entirely.

It’s hard to say which form of rot does more global damage. But both are good reasons to strip the human rights/international law industry of any remaining moral authority.