Give the United Nations a cheer–but not two.
On Friday, Russia lost its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. It tells you something about the moral standards of the UN that this was seen as a huge surprise. Russia, mind you, has been turned into a complete dictatorship by Vladimir Putin. It has invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea. Now it is committing war crimes with its indiscriminate bombing of Aleppo. But it was still a shock that Russia was denied a seat on the UN body charged with adjudicating human rights abuses–an organization that has been fit to issue “scathing assessments” of the state of human rights in the United States.
While mercifully voting Russia off the Human Rights Council, however, General Assembly members, in their infinite wisdom, chose to reappoint China and Saudi Arabia–two countries where civil liberties are as unknown as they are in Russia. But then, the Chinese and Saudi Arabian ambassadors will fit right in next to their compatriots from Burundi, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Vietnam, and other illiberal states.
The Human Rights Council was created after the previous UN Commission on Human Rights was thoroughly discredited. It became notorious in 2004 for granting a seat to Sudan at the height of its mass killing in Darfur. It was also guilty of flagrant anti-American and anti-Israeli bias. Unfortunately, the UN Human Rights Council hasn’t done much better.
As the Council on Foreign Relations noted in 2009, two years after the council’s creation: “Experts say bloc voting, loose membership standards, and bias against Israel are keeping the two-year-old council from living up to expectations as a responsible watchdog over global human rights norms. It is earning a failing grade from a broad range of groups, including human rights advocates, international law experts, and democracy activists.”
The UN does some valuable things to promote human rights, but most of them are outside of the council’s purview. For example, the UN established a separate Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea that issued a scathing report on “widespread and grave” abuses. It called for the matter to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
If the Human Rights Council is to serve its purpose, it will require another transformation. Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to happen in a body that gives every state, no matter how democratic or dictatorial, an equal vote.