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Moral Rot and the UNHCR

Noah Pollak started an excellent discussion about the self-described human rights community’s loss of any moral compass. Without rehashing Evelyn and Peter’s excellent posts, perhaps one of the most powerful pieces I have seen on this phenomenon hails from my former colleague Mauro De Lorenzo, a Rhodes Scholar who now serves as the vice president of the John Templeton Foundation. Writing not about the Middle East but rather about Africa, this is what De Lorenzo had to say:

You cannot sue the United Nations. If the UN violates your rights, that’s just too bad. There is no judge with jurisdiction, no independent tribunal, no possibility of compensation or justice. A culture of impunity is built into the DNA of the UN, and some of the clearest examples can be found in the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), mandated by the UN General Assembly to protect refugees around the world. Wherever UNHCR is responsible for determining refugee status, it fails to meet its own guidelines for fairness. And wherever UNHCR warehouses refugees in camps — sometimes for decades — it colludes in human rights violations on a large scale, with support from the American taxpayer…

Guglielmo Verdirame of the University of Cambridge and Barbara Harrell-Bond, founding director of the Refugee Studies Center at the University of Oxford, and co-authors of Rights in Exile: Janus-Faced Humanitarianism, found that UNHCR in Uganda and Kenya imposed unpaid work on refugees confined to camps, supported dispute resolution mechanisms that illegally imprisoned people for adultery, and failed to protect women from genital mutilation and domestic violence.

UNHCR has even imposed collective punishment on refugees under its protection. In the hellish Kakuma camp in northeastern Kenya, some refugees protested their conditions by destroying the enclosures through which refugees are herded to collect their food, once in April 1994 and again in April 1996. UNHCR cut off all food distribution, including to women and children, until the enclosures were rebuilt by the refugees. The suspension lasted 21 days in the first case and 14 in the second. Such measures are forbidden even in wartime by Article 33 of the Geneva Convention….

De Lorenzo’s whole article is worth reading. And, for the cheerleaders of the United Nations and human rights community in the Obama administration, it is worth asking: After nearly one term in office, what have you done to ensure that the billions in U.S. subsidies to the United Nations actually improve human rights rather than pay the perpetrators’ salaries?


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