After visiting the United States, three members of the “UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent” led by Mireille Fanon Mendes-France (previously seen cheerleading a lawsuit by Caribbean nations against Great Britain for the slave trade) has suggested not only that the United States pay reparations for slavery, but that it also establish a National Human Rights Commission. The statement, based on a preliminary visit interviewing a limited number black activists, immediately became fodder for the anti-American propaganda machine.
Let’s put aside that the United Nations (and Mendes-France) prefer to address slavery that existed more than 150 years ago rather than tackle its modern day manifestation in Mauritania and Sudan. And let’s put aside the fact that the United States fought, on its own accord, its bloodiest conflict to end the practice. And let’s also put aside the fact that the statistics which Mendes-France cites with regard to race and incarceration are inaccurate or cherry-picked. And let’s also forget that the United Nations still hasn’t been able to recover money from the Kofi Annan-era “Oil for Food” scandal. For the moment, let’s just consider the idea of a “National Human Rights Commission.”
Pretend for a moment that unlike the ‘Atrocity Prevention Board’ crafted by Obama administration official Samantha Power, that a governmental human rights commission would be more than another bureaucratic office to chop on memos. Mendes-France makes a self-defeating assumption that any government should sponsor a national human rights commission. After all, most human rights advocates would argue that whatever the headline of the day, the main purpose of human rights organizations is to protect people from government. To place the government in charge of human rights is to co-opt or restrain true human rights advocacy. Iraqi Kurdistan, for example, established a ministry of human rights which was able to advocate for restitution of victims of Saddam Hussein but was unable to address either the financial complicity of its own leadership with Saddam’s regime or the abuses in which the current Kurdish leadership has engaged. The same holds true for governmental regulation of other rights. Wherever Ministries of Labor control labor unions, for example, it is doubtful that truly independent unions exist. And when the government controls most serious industry, the ministries of labor are complicit less in protecting workers than in repressing them.
A statist vision permeates the United Nations, one that has little or nothing to do with the principles laid out in the United Nations’ original charter. The politicization of groups like “UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent” suggest an organization more interested in imposing political visions and statist solutions than in the protection of human rights. Indeed, perhaps Mendes-France and, by extension, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon might consider why, if the United States is so repressive toward those of African descent, African immigration to the United States continues to grow steadily? Obama may place ideology above reality when it comes to the United Nations, but let us hope that any new administration will think twice about the value of continued investment in the budgets of the United Nations Human Rights Council and the UN’s spin-off working groups.