Commentary Magazine


Topic: human rights

Alkarama Doubles Down on Al-Qaeda

I have written several times, for example, here, here, here, and here, about the extensive relationship between the Alkarama Foundation, a self-professed human-rights organization, and Western human-rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In addition, the State Department has incorporated some reporting from Alkarama into its annual country human-rights reports.

The reason for concern is that the U.S. Treasury Department has determined that the organization’s founding president Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi also happens to be an al-Qaeda financier. Here is the indefatigable Eli Lake’s article which broke the story.

In the wake of the scandal, Naimi said he would resign, but it was a bait-and-switch: He tendered his resignation, but Alkarama’s board did not accept it. Naimi then resumed his position. Alkarama tweeted me to call attention to their subsequent statement, “The Arab world needs bridge building, not terrorist listing.” Alkarama’s statement concluded, “If the U.S. wants to address the root causes of terrorism, it should avoid destroying the bridges which have been built between communities or taking the side of those attacking the rare fora – such as this organization – where tolerance, mutual understanding and exchange are made possible.”

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I have written several times, for example, here, here, here, and here, about the extensive relationship between the Alkarama Foundation, a self-professed human-rights organization, and Western human-rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. In addition, the State Department has incorporated some reporting from Alkarama into its annual country human-rights reports.

The reason for concern is that the U.S. Treasury Department has determined that the organization’s founding president Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi also happens to be an al-Qaeda financier. Here is the indefatigable Eli Lake’s article which broke the story.

In the wake of the scandal, Naimi said he would resign, but it was a bait-and-switch: He tendered his resignation, but Alkarama’s board did not accept it. Naimi then resumed his position. Alkarama tweeted me to call attention to their subsequent statement, “The Arab world needs bridge building, not terrorist listing.” Alkarama’s statement concluded, “If the U.S. wants to address the root causes of terrorism, it should avoid destroying the bridges which have been built between communities or taking the side of those attacking the rare fora – such as this organization – where tolerance, mutual understanding and exchange are made possible.”

Such words seem nice, but they reflect a greater phenomenon among many Islamist movements: While many in the United States and the West assume that greater interaction breeds tolerance, often among the most ideologically-committed Islamists exposure to the West brings not bridge-building, but rather a greater understanding about how to speak to Westerners and liberals. If people say the right thing, too often the Western NGO community and diplomats assume those people mean it. Actions matter more than words, however, which is why the terror designation is so disturbing. Neither Naimi nor Alkarama have moved to address the evidence behind the designation. Let us be clear: financing a group, in any way, shape, or form that is committed to the violent eradication of the region’s states and which commits the most heinous terror atrocities targeting civilians does not advance human rights; it mocks them.

It is time for Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United States Department of State to divorce themselves completely of Alkarama, and to withdraw and amend any reports which incorporated directly or indirectly information supplied by Alkarama. The old adage, “Garbage in, Garbage out” holds true. To continue to incorporate Alkarama research into these reports undercuts the entire corpus of those reports.

The situation gets worse, however. Readers of COMMENTARY need no reminder about the ineffectiveness of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Alkarama now seeks observer status at the Committee. To do so would be to effectively grant al-Qaeda’s lobbyist a seat at the table. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon may complain about the criticism the UN receives from Americans, Canadians, and others. But should he allow this to continue, he will do more damage to the UN and its human-rights committee than any secretary-general since the UN selected former Wehrmacht officer Kurt Waldheim to be secretary-general. Then again, for the UN, perhaps such decisions are now par for the course.

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Why Does HRW Support the Ummah Conference?

I have written here, here, and here about the implications upon Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International of the U.S. Treasury Department designation of the leader of Alkarama because of his financing of al-Qaeda. In short, Alkarama was less a human-rights organization than a radical political organization dedicated to the promotion of an extremist religious agenda. Given what has now emerged regarding its former partner, any responsible leadership at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should temporarily rescind, review and, if necessary, reissue any reports absent the input from its flawed and politicized partner.

Alas, rather than restore credibility to its report, HRW especially seems to be doubling down on jihadi organizations. It has actively advocated on behalf of the Ummah Conference, and has described the organization falsely as political activists who seek to advance peaceful political reform, democracy, and human rights. The Ummah Conference is nothing of the sort, and HRW should be the first to realize that.

This past autumn, HRW issued a report documenting crimes conducted by Islamist militias inside Syria, among whom is the Ahrar al-Sham. The HRW condemnation was somewhat ironic considering that Ahrar al-Sham receives support from and coordinates with the Ummah Conference. Muhammad al-Abduli, an Emirati leader of the Ummah Conference, fought alongside Ahrar al-Sham in Syria until early last year, when he was killed by a Syrian government sniper. To defend the Ummah Conference, however, HRW has relied upon the word of Alkarama, its partner whose president now appears to have been working on behalf of al-Qaeda.

Back to HRW’s laundering of Ummah Council figures and activities:

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I have written here, here, and here about the implications upon Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International of the U.S. Treasury Department designation of the leader of Alkarama because of his financing of al-Qaeda. In short, Alkarama was less a human-rights organization than a radical political organization dedicated to the promotion of an extremist religious agenda. Given what has now emerged regarding its former partner, any responsible leadership at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should temporarily rescind, review and, if necessary, reissue any reports absent the input from its flawed and politicized partner.

Alas, rather than restore credibility to its report, HRW especially seems to be doubling down on jihadi organizations. It has actively advocated on behalf of the Ummah Conference, and has described the organization falsely as political activists who seek to advance peaceful political reform, democracy, and human rights. The Ummah Conference is nothing of the sort, and HRW should be the first to realize that.

This past autumn, HRW issued a report documenting crimes conducted by Islamist militias inside Syria, among whom is the Ahrar al-Sham. The HRW condemnation was somewhat ironic considering that Ahrar al-Sham receives support from and coordinates with the Ummah Conference. Muhammad al-Abduli, an Emirati leader of the Ummah Conference, fought alongside Ahrar al-Sham in Syria until early last year, when he was killed by a Syrian government sniper. To defend the Ummah Conference, however, HRW has relied upon the word of Alkarama, its partner whose president now appears to have been working on behalf of al-Qaeda.

Back to HRW’s laundering of Ummah Council figures and activities:

In its 2009 report, HRW accused the United Arab Emirates of singling out Ummah Conference leader Hassan al-Diqqi and suggested that Diqqi’s detention was an example of a “human rights defender and government critic fac[ing] harassment, including criminal charges.” What the report omitted, however, was Diqqi’s repeated calls for violent jihad. Certainly, photos of Diqqi with the al-Qaeda-sympathizing Ummah Brigade in Syria do not depict a man committed to nonviolence or democracy, nor did the fact that he had established a training camp for Syrian jihadist fighters. Human Rights Watch also omitted the fact that Diqqi had authored a book advocating for violent jihad in 2002.

Then, in a 2011 report, HRW targeted Saudi authorities for arresting Saudi-based Ummah Party leaders. HRW described them as “political activists.” Perhaps they are political activists, if advocacy for al-Qaeda and support for its affiliates in Syria will, as HRW describes Saudi Arabia’s Ummah Party’s mission, serve the “promotion of human rights, including free speech the right to peacefully protest, and promotion of women and civil society….”

It’s not surprising that Alkarama would advocate so fiercely for the Ummah Conference, and falsely attest to that group’s moderation to Alkarama’s partners in Human Rights Watch. Alkarama was founded by five like-minded individuals: Designated terror financier Abd al-Rahman Omar al-Nuaimi and Khalifa Muhammad Raban who, like Nuaimi, is a Qatari citizen, and three leaders from Algeria’s Ummah Conference affiliate. Indeed, Mourad Dhina, one of the Algerian Alkarama founders and Ummah Conference members, was the supervisor of the executive office of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front from 2002-2004. Readers should remember the Islamic Salvation Front as the front group for the Armed Islamic Group, one side of the Algerian civil war that engaged in gross violations of human rights and committed atrocities in the conflict that claimed perhaps 100,000 lives.

As a private organization, HRW can ultimately do what it wants, even if it loses credibility by corrupting human-rights reporting by enabling radical partners to inject political agendas into their reports, effectively rendering them into tools of propaganda rather than human-rights advocacy.

So too can the United Nations Human Rights Council, an organization which has made a mockery of its own mission, which in 2009 adopted an opinion against the United Arab Emirates for its arrest of al-Diqqi. (In 2010, Alkarama took credit for the UN opinion, showing how conscious their efforts are to use human-rights organizations to launder their own jihadist agenda.)

The problem is that many in the State Department, unaware or too lazy to read Human Rights Watch reports with a critical eye, effectively parrot the language inserted by Alkarama and other radical partners into annual State Department human-rights reports. Rather than get out of the embassy and investigate human rights on their own, U.S. diplomats charged with writing the Saudi chapter on human rights simply took HRW’s word for it when it came to the crackdown on Ummah Party leaders. In its 2012 human rights report, for example, the State Department wrote, “According to a Human Rights Watch citation of the request, they appeared to have been detained solely for trying to create a party whose professed aims included ‘supporting the peaceful reform movement.’” Make no mistake: Saudi Arabia can be guilty of tremendous human-rights abuses, but that does not mean those who are radical even by Saudi standards are any better. Often, they can be far worse.

Given Human Rights Watch’s rampant politicization across the Middle East from Morocco and the Western Sahara to the United Arab Emirates, perhaps it is time to mandate that the State Department cannot utilize any HRW findings or data until HRW restores its quality control and excises agenda politics from its reporting.

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Why Do Human Rights Groups Punish Access?

Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

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Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

Not much has changed. So far in 2013, HRW has issued 14 press releases condemning Israel for various policies or abuses, and six press releases condemning the Palestinian Authority or Hamas leadership in Gaza. All five commentaries HRW published bashed Israel, or called on other countries to take a harsher line toward the Jewish state.

Compare that with Jordan (nine press releases, and four commentaries, three of which called for more acceptance of Syrian refugees); Lebanon (nine press releases and two commentaries, both of which focused on Syrian refugees); or Qatar (two press releases and five commentaries). True, there was more focus on Egypt and Syria this past year, but comparing countries with coups and civil wars to the region’s only democracy underscores the point. So too does the fact that criticism of Saudi Arabia has increased as that kingdom has granted human-rights groups more access.

Israel is not the only country penalized by the access it grants outsiders. King Muhammad VI has steadily liberalized Morocco since taking the throne in 1999 after the death of his father, King Hassan II. Since that time, HRW has issued four reports critical of Algerian human-rights abuses (and a fifth critical of Algerian cooperation with the United States), while it has issued three times that number criticizing Morocco. Make no mistake: Algeria has a far worse human-rights record, with a downward trajectory while Morocco has acknowledged past abuses and worked—quite successfully in most cases—to overcome them.

Nor is it just the Middle East where this pattern exists. In the past five years, HRW has issued four reports about Colombia where human rights have steadily improved, but only two about Venezuela, where Venezuela’s socialist leaders have pushed human rights into the gutter. Likewise, over the past five years, HRW has issued one report about Belarus but five about Georgia.

The U.S. State Department is guilty of the same pattern when it writes its annual human-rights reports. Here, there is no better example than the discrepancy in how the State Department treats Morocco, a loyal and increasingly progressive U.S. ally, and the Polisario Front, an autocratic Cold War throwback which imprisons not only Sahrawi tribal members in refugee camps in the Western province of Tindouf, but also Mauritanians and Algerians it has captured in order to swell refugee numbers. The Algerian government and Polisario both have a policy of refusing to allow residents to return home to Morocco, which has welcomed anyone who wants to come (there are very limited family visits, but usually Polisario holds family members hostage to ensure that men and women return to their spouses and children rather than remain in Morocco). While historically, the U.S. Embassy in Rabat handled the Polisario camps, in recent years the U.S. Embassy in Algiers has taken over the responsibility. Herein lays the problem: The U.S. Embassy in Algiers is either unable to visit the camps, or unwilling to antagonize the Algerian government with which it must work for fear of making an issue of the camps. The end result is that the State Department annual human-rights report is hypercritical of Morocco, effectively punishing it for its openness, while giving the Polisario Front effectively a clean pass by omission.

That the lesson governments might take from the practices of both human-rights organizations and the State Department is that the way to a clean bill of health is to restrict access is unfortunate. Human-rights officials might enjoy hanging out more in Casablanca, Rabat, Tel Aviv, Tbilisi, and Bogota rather than spending their time being harassed by police and security services in Minsk, Gaza, Caracas, Algiers or Tindouf, but they are doing themselves and their organizations a disservice by taking the easy way out. Fortunately, countries like Israel, Morocco, Colombia, and Georgia seem committed to doing the right thing regardless of how their critics treat them. Still, that the pattern of punishing access exists is undeniable and should provide pause for the human-rights organizations, for the existence of such a pattern corrupts the end result and gives countries reason to dismiss all reporting as arbitrary and not based on set standards.

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It’s Time to Close the Camps

The last quarter century has been a time of great change across the globe, much of which has been for the better. The number of electoral democracies has grown from 69 in 1989 to 118 today. Despite Russia’s resurgence, the instability wrought by the Arab Spring, and the dangers posed by rogue regimes, the world remains far freer now than at any point in history.

How tragic it is, then, that so many tens of thousands remain effectively imprisoned in political concentration camps. North Korea, of course, is the world’s worst violator. According to the Guardian, the left’s flagship paper, up to 200,000 North Koreans remain imprisoned. CNN has detailed some of the ongoing horror in the six camps, and any report from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea is worth reading. The Hermit Kingdom is not alone, though.

For decades, China has also maintained a series of “re-education through labor” [laojiao] camps. And while the Chinese government has recently promised to dismantle its network, actions ultimately speak louder than words.

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The last quarter century has been a time of great change across the globe, much of which has been for the better. The number of electoral democracies has grown from 69 in 1989 to 118 today. Despite Russia’s resurgence, the instability wrought by the Arab Spring, and the dangers posed by rogue regimes, the world remains far freer now than at any point in history.

How tragic it is, then, that so many tens of thousands remain effectively imprisoned in political concentration camps. North Korea, of course, is the world’s worst violator. According to the Guardian, the left’s flagship paper, up to 200,000 North Koreans remain imprisoned. CNN has detailed some of the ongoing horror in the six camps, and any report from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea is worth reading. The Hermit Kingdom is not alone, though.

For decades, China has also maintained a series of “re-education through labor” [laojiao] camps. And while the Chinese government has recently promised to dismantle its network, actions ultimately speak louder than words.

The United States might have little leverage over China and North Korea, but low-hanging fruit which could be resolved with American diplomatic pressure does exist. The Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO) is correct to castigate those who believe that the Iranian government or its militia proxies should enjoy an open season on group members. Opposing massacres is not synonymous with support for the group, however; it may no longer be a U.S.-designated terror group, but remains just as much an authoritarian cult. And while MKO spokesmen may castigate the Iraqi government and the Iranian regime, the real victims of the MKO lay within the group itself. Camp Liberty—the successor to Camp Ashraf—exists as much if not more to keep MKO members insulated from the real world and under the control of MKO leader Maryam Rajavi’s commissars than as a means of protection for group members.

Other camps exist in the Tindouf province of southwestern Algeria. Here, perhaps 40,000 residents of southern Morocco, Algeria, western Mali, and northern Mauritania languish in camps controlled by the once-Marxist Polisario Front, largely kept from returning home by the group’s political commissars and the Algerian government. During a recent visit to Dakhla, in Western Sahara, I had the opportunity to speak to former members who described not only their own escape from the camps, but the attempts by others who were forcibly returned to the camps, where Polisario authorities punished them for the audacity of seeking to return home rather than languish in camps 22 years after the war between Morocco and Algeria ended. Simply put, Polisario realizes that if the camps close, the gravy train of international assistance would end and the Polisario would lose its raison d’être.

The Polisario is not the only Cold War remnant stubbornly holding hostages. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia also engages in the practice, holding some prisoners for more than a decade. While some journalists parachute in and whitewash just what happens in FARC camps, it is hard to see “cultural programming” as anything other than an attempt at ideological re-education.

The Obama administration came into office seemingly committed to prioritizing human rights, never mind the debates about how best to guarantee rights, freedom, and liberty. The State Department became a revolving door not only for journalists, but for human-rights advocates, most notably Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski and writer Samantha Power. Increasingly, however, it seems such figures are either window dressing for an administration so disinterested in human rights that it is willing to sanction political concentration and re-education camps or, worse yet, that these figures are so permeated by moral equivalency and skewed in their understanding of what universal human rights are that they are willing to normalize with the regimes, sponsors, and groups which engage in such practices.

Concentration camps and slavery (discussed in a previous post) are two phenomena that simply should not exist in the 21st century. That they do is a sad testament to the reality of regimes like North Korea’s, China’s, Algeria’s, Venezuela’s, and Cuba’s, and the choices which successive U.S. administrations–both Democrat and Republican–have made to not let such issues be stumbling blocks to engaging with the United States on other issues.

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A Call for Freedom in South Africa

President Obama has not always embraced the notion that he is the leader of the free world. Far too often, he has preferred to pose as a figure of the post-American era. He has been quick to apologize for America’s flaws and too besotted with multilateralism and multiculturalism to assert that the model of American liberty is right for the rest of the world. Nor has he been a consistent or even a particularly assertive advocate for human rights. Indeed, his predecessor’s freedom agenda, a sometimes flawed but still deeply principled effort to expand the reach of democracy and to topple tyrants, was something he often consciously rejected. He stood largely mute when protesters took to the streets in Tehran and seemed only excited by the rise to power of Islamist movements during the Arab Spring, a development that was no victory for freedom.

But today during his eulogy in South Africa for the late Nelson Mandela, the president did seize this unique moment to draw the world’s attention to that same freedom agenda that he has often spurned. Mixed in with amorphous calls for peace and the need to deal with inequality, he said this:

There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

While Obama must be considered as someone who has largely stood on the sidelines in the manner that he described, it was important for someone at the funeral to call attention, even indirectly, to the fact that the vast majority of African countries fit his description.

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President Obama has not always embraced the notion that he is the leader of the free world. Far too often, he has preferred to pose as a figure of the post-American era. He has been quick to apologize for America’s flaws and too besotted with multilateralism and multiculturalism to assert that the model of American liberty is right for the rest of the world. Nor has he been a consistent or even a particularly assertive advocate for human rights. Indeed, his predecessor’s freedom agenda, a sometimes flawed but still deeply principled effort to expand the reach of democracy and to topple tyrants, was something he often consciously rejected. He stood largely mute when protesters took to the streets in Tehran and seemed only excited by the rise to power of Islamist movements during the Arab Spring, a development that was no victory for freedom.

But today during his eulogy in South Africa for the late Nelson Mandela, the president did seize this unique moment to draw the world’s attention to that same freedom agenda that he has often spurned. Mixed in with amorphous calls for peace and the need to deal with inequality, he said this:

There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

While Obama must be considered as someone who has largely stood on the sidelines in the manner that he described, it was important for someone at the funeral to call attention, even indirectly, to the fact that the vast majority of African countries fit his description.

Nelson Mandela was, as both Max Boot and I wrote last week, one of the pivotal historical figures of the last century. His embrace of racial reconciliation and peace was crucial to his country’s future and set an example for the world. But one of the flaws in this truly great man’s public persona was his inability to discard the alliances he made during his struggle for freedom with despotic regimes. Mandela’s alliances with the Soviet Union, Communist Cuba, and terrorists like Yasir Arafat were marriages of convenience forced on him due to the fact that the Cold War left him without significant Western friends. But as Seth Lipsky wrote yesterday in Haaretz, the Soviets were no friends of freedom even when they were backing Mandela and his African National Congress. Unfortunately, though Mandela embraced democracies in power and sought to make his own country free, he was unwilling to drop these unsavory friends once in power. Thus, despotic regimes, like that of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, never lost South Africa’s support.

President Obama’s eloquent praise of Nelson Mandela largely did him and the United States credit. But he needs to take his own advice about speaking out against tyranny. If convention called for him to shake the hand of Cuban dictator Raul Castro at the funeral, he shouldn’t lose the opportunity to call for freedom in Cuba or to demand the release of Alan Gross, an American aid worker who remains imprisoned there. It is a shame that he did not do so. It should be remembered that while Mandela chose peace, he did not accept the continuation of tyranny; he ended it. When President Obama embraces détente with the tyrannical government of Iran and puts the issues of human rights and terrorism on the back burner, he gives the lie to his praise of Mandela. If, instead of seeking to empower rogue regimes, the president were to dedicate the foreign policy of his second term to a renewed freedom agenda, he would do much to burnish his own legacy as well as doing honor to the man he claims as his hero.

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Obama’s Iran Deal Left Pastor Behind

While the debate about the nuclear deal with Iran centered on the way it legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, some Americans were devastated by another element of the administration’s rush to create a new détente with the ayatollahs. The family of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born American citizen who has been imprisoned by the Islamist regime for religious activities, was shocked that Secretary of State John Kerry signed onto the accord without also securing Abedini’s release. As CNN reported last week, the 33-year-old pastor is in ill heath in a dangerous prison. Given that President Obama let it be known that he had mentioned the fate of the American jailed for his Christian faith in a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it was thought that any deal with Tehran, especially one whose terms were so favorable to the regime, would also include Abedini’s freedom. But ten days after Kerry’s “mission accomplished” moment in Geneva, there is no indication that the Iranians have any intention of releasing Abedini.

But as bad as that makes the administration appear, an item first reported by Britain’s Daily Mail over the weekend makes the president’s decision to leave Abedini behind in his zeal for an Iranian deal look even worse. It turns out that the Mojtaba Atarodi, an Iranian scientist who was arrested in the U.S. back in 2011 for his work in trying to purchase equipment for the regime’s nuclear program, was set free in April of this year as part of the price paid by the U.S. for the start of the secret back-channel talks that led to the recent agreement. Along with three other Iranians involved in similar activity, Atarodi was sprung. According to the Daily Mail, in return President Obama got the negotiations he wanted as well as the release of two lost American hikers who were imprisoned when they strayed over the country’s border. But three Americans, including Abedini and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, remain in Iranian custody (Levinson disappeared in Iran and is unaccounted for). If the president has chosen to ignore the plight of these Americans who have been wrongfully imprisoned by a tyrannical regime and left them to rot in Iranian jails, then the U.S. embrace of Iran is even more disgraceful than even its most strident critics had thought.

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While the debate about the nuclear deal with Iran centered on the way it legitimized Iran’s nuclear program, some Americans were devastated by another element of the administration’s rush to create a new détente with the ayatollahs. The family of Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born American citizen who has been imprisoned by the Islamist regime for religious activities, was shocked that Secretary of State John Kerry signed onto the accord without also securing Abedini’s release. As CNN reported last week, the 33-year-old pastor is in ill heath in a dangerous prison. Given that President Obama let it be known that he had mentioned the fate of the American jailed for his Christian faith in a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, it was thought that any deal with Tehran, especially one whose terms were so favorable to the regime, would also include Abedini’s freedom. But ten days after Kerry’s “mission accomplished” moment in Geneva, there is no indication that the Iranians have any intention of releasing Abedini.

But as bad as that makes the administration appear, an item first reported by Britain’s Daily Mail over the weekend makes the president’s decision to leave Abedini behind in his zeal for an Iranian deal look even worse. It turns out that the Mojtaba Atarodi, an Iranian scientist who was arrested in the U.S. back in 2011 for his work in trying to purchase equipment for the regime’s nuclear program, was set free in April of this year as part of the price paid by the U.S. for the start of the secret back-channel talks that led to the recent agreement. Along with three other Iranians involved in similar activity, Atarodi was sprung. According to the Daily Mail, in return President Obama got the negotiations he wanted as well as the release of two lost American hikers who were imprisoned when they strayed over the country’s border. But three Americans, including Abedini and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, remain in Iranian custody (Levinson disappeared in Iran and is unaccounted for). If the president has chosen to ignore the plight of these Americans who have been wrongfully imprisoned by a tyrannical regime and left them to rot in Iranian jails, then the U.S. embrace of Iran is even more disgraceful than even its most strident critics had thought.

It is possible that the three Americans will yet be ransomed by the administration as part of the follow-up negotiations that are supposed to come after the current agreement’s six-month period expires. There’s also the chance that Iran’s supposed moderates will reward the president for his appeasement of the regime by making a gift of these prisoners, perhaps before Christmas.

But no one who cares about their fate, or indeed about the lamentable state of human rights in Iran, could have taken much comfort from the answer given last week by National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden when asked why Abedini’s freedom had not been part of the deal. She dismissed the appeal by saying the talks in Geneva had “focused exclusively on nuclear issues.”

In other words, even though the president had already made a personal appeal for their release, by the time Kerry and chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman sat down to dicker with the Iranians, there had already been a conscious decision made to abandon the effort to free the Americans.

Was it too much to ask that Abedini and the other imprisoned Americans be let loose before any sanctions relief was delivered to the Iranians? Apparently it was for Obama and his team, who handed over billions in frozen assets to the ayatollahs in exchange for promises but not a single prisoner. Though the impact of economic sanctions and the threat of the use of force that supposedly President Obama has not taken off the table should have given the U.S. leverage to get at least these Americans home, if not a better deal, in his zeal for an agreement at any price, the president left them behind.

Given the way President Obama first ignored and then downplayed Tehran’s crushing of dissident protests back in the summer of 2009, he has already demonstrated that human-rights issues simply aren’t on his agenda in talks with Iran. The human tragedy of the three imprisoned Americans as well as the countless Iranians who suffer at the hands of this despotic Islamist regime doesn’t appear to matter much to him when compared to his obvious desire for better relations with their jailers. The lives of Saeed Abedini and the others in Iranian jails may not seem so important to those who foster delusions about détente with Iran. But if they die in Iranian prisons, their fate should lie heavily on the conscience of this president and all who serve him.

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Iran’s Imprisoned Ayatollah Suffers Heart Attack

In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

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In July, I reported on the grave situation of Hossein Bourojerdi, one of Iran’s most courageous dissidents. Bourojerdi, who carries the honorific Shia Muslim title of “ayatollah,” is a veteran opponent of Iran’s ruling system of velayat e faqih, whereby Islamic jurists exercise total control over society and its institutions.

Bourojerdi was first incarcerated in 2006. At the time, hundreds of the ayatollah’s supporters valiantly attemped to stop him from being dragged out of his south Tehran home by the police. Since then, reports of Bourojerdi’s failing health have regularly surfaced. Now, Iranian human-rights activists have passed on the news that Bourojerdi, who is languishing in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, began experiencing heart failure last Sunday.

Only after Bourojerdi coped with extreme pain and shortness of breath for a full day did the Evin guards finally escort him from his cell for what passes for medical attention, by which point the ayatollah had undergone a heart attack. “Not only was he not given any medication while at the infirmary,” noted the latest bulletin on Bourojerdi’s plight, “the prison authorities continued to refuse his family’s delivery of medication that he had been prescribed before.”

A few days before his heart attack, Bourojerdi sent a thunderous appeal to the United Nations General Assembly urging the international body to once and for all confront the issue of human-rights abuse by the Iranian regime:

I sit here, at the start of my eighth year of captivity; jailed by a religious dictatorship and charged with defending the freedom of thought, speech and expression and refusing to align with tyrants who forcibly lord over Iran… Has the time not come for your assembly to demand that these brutal totalitarians respond to how they dare to speak of Bahrain, Syria and Palestine, under the guise of sympathy, when they have plundered and stolen the wealth and national income of every Iranian, rendering them impoverished and putting them in the ultimate financial and economic crisis?

That time, of course, has not come. Bourojerdi’s missive passed unnoticed amidst all the cooing over the charm offensive launched by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new and–as we are endlessly informed–“moderate” president. While President Obama did, in his phone call with Rouhani, raise the continuing imprisonment of Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor with American citizenship who has also been detained in Evin for the last year, the suffering of a Muslim cleric who has tirelessly advocated for the separation of mosque and state was deemed unworthy of even a mention.

But Bourojerdi’s case may yet receive the attention it warrants from an unexpected source. Ahmad Shaheed, the former foreign minister of the Maldives who presently serves as the UN’s “Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” has won plaudits from Iranian democracy activists for his forthright reports on the mullah’s human-rights abuses. Shaheed is certainly aware of Bourojerdi’s situation, having received a letter from supporters and family members of the ayatollah in 2011, in which they asserted that an “illegal ban” on prison visits was designed to compel Bourojerdi to confess to fabricated crimes.

In his most recent report, Shaheed carefully traced the regime’s repression of religious minorities, citing the predicament of Christians and Bahais who are especially vulnerable to legal charges of heresy and apostasy. Significantly, Shaheed concluded that:

There has been an apparent increase in the degree of seriousness of human rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran…alarming reports of retributive State action against individuals suspected of communicating with UN Special Procedures raises serious concern about the Government’s resolve to promote respect for human rights in the country (my emphasis.)

In other words, as well as refusing cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors, the regime is also criminalizing those who talk to the international body’s human-rights investigators. So far, Rouhani has given no indication that he will curb this intimidation. Indeed, his appointment of a hardliner with strong ties to Iran’s security apparatus, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, as the country’s minister of justice, does not bode well for Ayatollah Boroujerdi or any of the other activists that have run afoul of the Tehran regime.

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What China Fears

The battle between “idealism” and “Realpolitik” in the making of foreign policy is vividly on display now with regard to Egypt: “Idealists” (aka “neocons”) generally favor cutting off aid to the military regime which is slaughtering its own people in the streets; “Realpolitikers” generally advocate holding our noses and backing the generals as a better alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. My purpose here is not to engage in the debate about Egypt per se (I will do that separately), but simply to point out that, although the U.S. cannot afford to stick to its ideals in each and every foreign-policy crisis (compromises do sometimes have to be made in the real world), when we deviate too far from our principles we lose what is arguably the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.

Evidence of this proposition comes, in a back-handed tribute, from none other than the reigning Communist emperor of China, Xi Jinping. His minions have just issued a memo, known in proper Orwellian fashion as Document No. 9, that warns Communist apparatchiks about the biggest threat to their rule. No, it does not come from the US 7th Fleet, from the American nuclear arsenal, or any other manifestation of American hard power in which Realpolitikers typically repose all of their faith.

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The battle between “idealism” and “Realpolitik” in the making of foreign policy is vividly on display now with regard to Egypt: “Idealists” (aka “neocons”) generally favor cutting off aid to the military regime which is slaughtering its own people in the streets; “Realpolitikers” generally advocate holding our noses and backing the generals as a better alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. My purpose here is not to engage in the debate about Egypt per se (I will do that separately), but simply to point out that, although the U.S. cannot afford to stick to its ideals in each and every foreign-policy crisis (compromises do sometimes have to be made in the real world), when we deviate too far from our principles we lose what is arguably the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.

Evidence of this proposition comes, in a back-handed tribute, from none other than the reigning Communist emperor of China, Xi Jinping. His minions have just issued a memo, known in proper Orwellian fashion as Document No. 9, that warns Communist apparatchiks about the biggest threat to their rule. No, it does not come from the US 7th Fleet, from the American nuclear arsenal, or any other manifestation of American hard power in which Realpolitikers typically repose all of their faith.

Rather the peril that Xi warns about comes from seven subversive ideas starting with “Western constitutional democracy.” The others on the list include “promoting ‘universal values’ of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market ‘neo-liberalism,’ and ‘nihilist’ criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.”

The New York Times reporter Chris Buckley, who obtained a copy of the document, writes that it warns cadres, “Western forces hostile to China and dissidents within the country are still constantly infiltrating the ideological sphere.” One Communist propagandist, implementing the document’s advice, told mining officials that “promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party’s leadership.”

The Communists are right—the Western ideals embodied, above all, in the Declaration of Independence are a big threat to the rule of anti-American dictators, whether in China or in other countries. Which is the best argument I have ever heard for why the U.S. should be doing more to promote those very ideals. Promoting democracy can be messy in the short-run and isn’t always possible in every circumstance but, in general, it is the best long-term bet for promoting American interests. In the case of China in particular, the U.S. should not be focusing simply on narrow economic or security concerns; instead it should be doing more to spread behind the Bamboo Curtain the subversive ideas which the Communist bosses fear so much.

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Putin’s Reminder: Politics Trumps Sports

The anger over Russia’s law banning pro-gay “propaganda” is growing as more athletes and fans have expressed their outrage about the prospect of the authoritarian government using next year’s Winter Olympics as a platform to sanitize Vladimir Putin’s regime. While there doesn’t appear to be much support for a boycott of the Sochi games, there’s little question that many athletes and a lot of the media in attendance will be looking to push the envelope on this prohibition and to embarrass their tyrannical hosts as much as they can, as today’s New York Times report on the latest twist in the controversy shows. In that effort, I wish them luck. More than that, I’m glad that by offending an extremely influential group within Western culture and the media, the Russians have reminded us of a truth that is often submerged amid all the hype that is showered onto international sporting events: politics should trump sports.

My only question is why this lesson was ignored when virtually no one paid attention to China’s egregious and massive human rights abuses during the 2008 Summer Olympics? And why didn’t anyone in the soccer universe (the world’s most popular sport) scream bloody murder when Qatar, which like other Gulf states is actually far more repressive than Putin’s Russia, was awarded the 2022 World Cup?

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The anger over Russia’s law banning pro-gay “propaganda” is growing as more athletes and fans have expressed their outrage about the prospect of the authoritarian government using next year’s Winter Olympics as a platform to sanitize Vladimir Putin’s regime. While there doesn’t appear to be much support for a boycott of the Sochi games, there’s little question that many athletes and a lot of the media in attendance will be looking to push the envelope on this prohibition and to embarrass their tyrannical hosts as much as they can, as today’s New York Times report on the latest twist in the controversy shows. In that effort, I wish them luck. More than that, I’m glad that by offending an extremely influential group within Western culture and the media, the Russians have reminded us of a truth that is often submerged amid all the hype that is showered onto international sporting events: politics should trump sports.

My only question is why this lesson was ignored when virtually no one paid attention to China’s egregious and massive human rights abuses during the 2008 Summer Olympics? And why didn’t anyone in the soccer universe (the world’s most popular sport) scream bloody murder when Qatar, which like other Gulf states is actually far more repressive than Putin’s Russia, was awarded the 2022 World Cup?

I love sports, but prefer the kind that doesn’t mix up nationalism with games. But most Americans, like sports fans everywhere, like our televised sports and we don’t like inconvenient human rights causes interfering with the fun. So perhaps many of us sympathized with Russian gold medal-winning pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva’s plea that “politics” not interfere with the pageantry and the competition at Sochi. But in fact, the willingness of gays to speak up and not be put off by the desire of those who profit from sports to insulate their business from political consideration should set an example that should not be limited to Sochi.

The fact is international sports competitions are political almost by definition. The Olympics in particular are often used as PR photo ops for the host governments because the nationalism and the flag waving will always be used by regimes that wish to be viewed in a more positive light. The 1936 Berlin Olympics is the classic example. While we in the United States tend to only remember it for Jesse Owens’s triumph that disproved the Nazi theories about Aryan superiority, those games were actually an even bigger triumph for Adolf Hitler. The prestige and power of his government was enhanced by the world coming to his capital. It was one of many factors that led him to believe that the world would accept anything he did to groups he despised, like Jews, without causing much trouble–and he was right about that. That was also true 72 years later when the Chinese proved that you could be the world’s biggest human rights offender and hear hardly a peep of protest from the West when they ran their Olympics extravaganza in 2008.

Thus, I think the prospect of gay protesters disrupting the Games is an encouraging development. Rather than be sidelined by the impulse to not let such causes interfere with the bread and circuses, activists should do everything possible to promote their cause.

Governments that engage in massive human rights abuses should not be, as they have been many times in the past, allowed to use sports to burnish their image. But it shouldn’t stop there. The same activists and others should be prepared to do the same in the Gulf states that discriminate against Jews as well as gays when the soccer jamboree is held there in 2022, an event that will garner even more viewers. If not, we have a right to ask why.

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Samantha Power’s First Test

Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

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Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

When questions of morality arise, UN officials often hide behind procedure. Perhaps it is worthwhile asking Power what damage such traditions and procedures have inflicted on the United Nations, and both how and whether she will seek to reverse them. Not only UN effectiveness, but also American interests are at stake. If Power is not able to compel the UN to reform its myriad organizations, senators might ask whether Power would advocate diminishing funding for the UN by the budgets in question. If not, it might seem Power sees the UN much like her “Atrocities Prevention Board” and seeks more to posture than truly tackle human rights abuses.

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China’s Atrocities Don’t Interest Americans

Last week, the New York Times finally ran a piece on a story that had been circulation around the Internet for months. A woman purchasing a package of Halloween decorations at a K-Mart in Oregon found a letter in English placed there by one of the workers who had made the product. It said the following:

“Sir: If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization,” said the note, which was tucked between two ersatz tombstones and fell out when the woman, Julie Keith, opened the box in her living room last October. “Thousands people here who are under the persicution [sic] of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

Ms. Keith was profoundly affected by this shocking message—whose author was recently found—but knew nothing about the situation in the Laogai, the Chinese gulag where “re-education through labor” subjects hundreds of thousands if not many millions of Chinese criminals as well as religious believers and political dissidents to horrific conditions as well as torture and death. So do most Americans. But the really awful truth about the American view of China is that even those who know or ought to know what is going on there simply don’t care. Five days after the Times ran the story about the inmate’s letter, it published a piece about New York University’s decision to push out a prominent Chinese dissident for fear that his continued presence on campus would harm the school’s close financial relationship with Beijing. Just as any hope of abolishing these camps is made impossible by the fact that the Chinese police profit from the suffering of their inmates, so, too, American institutions and businesses are compromised by their financial ties to an evil system.

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Last week, the New York Times finally ran a piece on a story that had been circulation around the Internet for months. A woman purchasing a package of Halloween decorations at a K-Mart in Oregon found a letter in English placed there by one of the workers who had made the product. It said the following:

“Sir: If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization,” said the note, which was tucked between two ersatz tombstones and fell out when the woman, Julie Keith, opened the box in her living room last October. “Thousands people here who are under the persicution [sic] of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

Ms. Keith was profoundly affected by this shocking message—whose author was recently found—but knew nothing about the situation in the Laogai, the Chinese gulag where “re-education through labor” subjects hundreds of thousands if not many millions of Chinese criminals as well as religious believers and political dissidents to horrific conditions as well as torture and death. So do most Americans. But the really awful truth about the American view of China is that even those who know or ought to know what is going on there simply don’t care. Five days after the Times ran the story about the inmate’s letter, it published a piece about New York University’s decision to push out a prominent Chinese dissident for fear that his continued presence on campus would harm the school’s close financial relationship with Beijing. Just as any hope of abolishing these camps is made impossible by the fact that the Chinese police profit from the suffering of their inmates, so, too, American institutions and businesses are compromised by their financial ties to an evil system.

Chen Guangcheng had his 15 minutes of fame when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton persuaded the Chinese government to allow the blind lawyer to leave the country. Chen was a forceful critic of the country’s despotic one-child policies that have involved forced abortions and was given a law fellowship at NYU, but he was recently told to leave and vacate the apartment the university gave him in Greenwich Village. NYU claims it has done nothing wrong and treated Chen with generosity, but the school’s interest in disassociating itself from the dissident’s forceful criticism of China’s Communist rulers is clear. Like many American colleges, NYU is opening a Chinese campus and doesn’t want to pick fights with Beijing.

Chen said the following in a statement:

“The work of the Chinese Communists within academic circles in the United States is far greater than what people imagine, and some scholars have no option but to hold themselves back,” Mr. Chen said. “Academic independence and academic freedom in the United States are being greatly threatened by a totalitarian regime.”

According to NYU, Chen’s fellowship simply expired and it was time for him to move on to other opportunities. But even if that were true, the university’s well publicized generosity to scholars that it considers academic stars—including loans and fabulous vacation homes in the Hamptons—makes their eviction notice to a man who might be considered an academic luminary if education about human rights was a priority seem slightly suspicious.

But the problem here isn’t so much NYU’s hypocrisy or whether Chen simply has had a misunderstanding with the school. With the American economy inextricably tied to that of China via an astronomical debt and trade imbalance and with U.S. consumers and industries addicted to the cheap goods produced in Chinese sweatshops or in concentration camps, there is no constituency behind protests aimed at highlighting abuses there.

China is not quite the totalitarian nightmare that it was under Mao as free enterprise has blossomed there, but neither is it remotely free. Political and religious freedom doesn’t exist there. Nor can private property truly be safe in a system where there is no rule of law. For all the talk about the lunacy in North Korea and other tyrannical nations, the scale of human rights abuses in the world’s most populous country dwarfs anything happening anywhere else.

Americans should be ashamed that they don’t know that the cheap stuff they purchase in stores here is paid for in the blood of suffering dissidents and religious believers. Where once mass movements pushed for change in the Soviet Union and even South Africa, people like Chen find themselves stranded in a free country that isn’t interested in what is going on in China. If they lash out in despair at this lamentable situation, who can blame them?

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Atrocities Prevention Board, One Year Later

President Obama announced the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board a year ago today. Less than four months later, my colleague Michael Rubin pointed out the futility of the board, noting that it would “never be able to enact policies against the will of the White House, the State Department, or Congress.” Over the past year, the board has been conspicuously invisible, and not just on Syria. Robert Skloot and Samuel Totten lament the on-going atrocities committed by the Islamist regime in Sudan, and note that:

The Atrocities Prevention Board seems to have accomplished little to nothing over the past year. It has issued no pronouncements in regard to any of the ongoing humanitarian crises in the world — not about the appalling situation in Sudan, in Congo, in Syria and so on. Members of the board have also refused to respond to correspondence from dozens of scholars of genocide studies and human rights activists (ourselves included) calling on the board to urge Obama to insist that the United Nations support actions that would protect vulnerable and suffering populations. Our letters have gone unanswered and unacknowledged.

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President Obama announced the creation of the Atrocities Prevention Board a year ago today. Less than four months later, my colleague Michael Rubin pointed out the futility of the board, noting that it would “never be able to enact policies against the will of the White House, the State Department, or Congress.” Over the past year, the board has been conspicuously invisible, and not just on Syria. Robert Skloot and Samuel Totten lament the on-going atrocities committed by the Islamist regime in Sudan, and note that:

The Atrocities Prevention Board seems to have accomplished little to nothing over the past year. It has issued no pronouncements in regard to any of the ongoing humanitarian crises in the world — not about the appalling situation in Sudan, in Congo, in Syria and so on. Members of the board have also refused to respond to correspondence from dozens of scholars of genocide studies and human rights activists (ourselves included) calling on the board to urge Obama to insist that the United Nations support actions that would protect vulnerable and suffering populations. Our letters have gone unanswered and unacknowledged.

As Michael noted, one of the weaknesses of the left’s approach to human rights, illustrated both by Samantha Power, the head of the board, and Professors Skloot and Totten, is their reliance on the United Nations. And there is something piquant about a board that must, if it is true to its mission, call for more U.S. interventions, being brought into existence by a president who has made it perfectly clear that he wants to intervene less. Max Boot recalls that Power has criticized U.S. officials for tending to oppose both genocide in the abstract and American involvement in particular cases. I’d add that, before Iraq and Obama came along, Power made a living on her explicit claim that the problem was lack of political will to intervene, and that ways should be found to raise the political cost to leaders who refuse to do so. When the board was announced, critics feared it would be a bully pulpit for intervention. There seems no risk of that today. Far from raising Obama’s costs, the board is in practice enabling his leadership from behind.

A look at the White House “Fact Sheet” of a year ago shows just how easy it is to put out bold-sounding statements that are undermined by events. According to this “comprehensive strategy,” the U.S. is supposed to deny visas to human rights abusers: it took Congressional leadership to pass the Magnitsky Act, and the administration’s implementation of its visa restrictions has been half-hearted at best. The strategy was supposed to “increase the ability of the United States Government to ‘surge’ specialized expertise”: as Elliott Abrams notes in his recent review of David Rohde’s Beyond War, the Afghan surge was flawed from the start by Obama’s insistence that it last only 18 months, which led to the predictable waste of U.S. foreign aid. And, of course, there was its predictable emphasis on strengthening the U.N.’s capacity, which, after the U.N.’s catastrophic, cholera-inducing intervention in Haiti, is a bad joke.

It’s about as likely that the U.S. will develop the ability to predict atrocities before they happen as it is that we’ll develop the ability to predict events like the Arab Spring before they happen. It’s all too easy to make a list of places where bad things are more likely to happen: any place where government is either really strong or really weak is a contender to head the list. Nor is there any secret about where the world’s atrocities are happening today: Syria, North Korea, Iran, the DRC, and Sudan, among others. The usual suspects.

The problem is not that we lack the administrative tools to recognize this. It’s not even that this administration has in practice been more interested in cozying up to Russia, downplaying radical Islamism, and kicking the can down the road in Syria and Iran, though all of that will feature heavily in the work of a future Samantha Power. It’s that these are, in Power’s own words, problems from hell, and you don’t address problems from hell with a nice, well-mannered, invisible inter-agency board.

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How UNRWA Steals Money from Those Who Need It Most

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is threatening to end relief operations for Syrian refugees, who currently number 1.3 million and counting, if it doesn’t receive the necessary funds soon. The agency says it has received only a third of the $1 billion it needs through June, and only $400 million of the $1.5 billion donors pledged earlier this year. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned explicitly that absent more funds, UNHCR will have to stop distributing food to refugees in Lebanon next month. And Jordan, which has the largest population of Syrian refugees, is threatening to close its borders to new entrants unless more aid is forthcoming urgently.

Meanwhile, another UN agency enjoys comfortable funding of about $1 billion a year to help a very different group of refugees–refugees who generally live in permanent homes rather than flimsy tents in makeshift camps; who have never faced the trauma of flight and dislocation, having lived all their lives in the place where they were born; who often have jobs that provide an income on top of their refugee benefits; and who enjoy regular access to schooling, healthcare and all the other benefits of non-refugee life. In short, these “refugees” are infinitely better off than their Syrian brethren–yet their generous funding continues undisturbed even as Syrian refugees are facing the imminent loss of such basics as food and fresh water. I am talking, of course, about UNRWA.

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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is threatening to end relief operations for Syrian refugees, who currently number 1.3 million and counting, if it doesn’t receive the necessary funds soon. The agency says it has received only a third of the $1 billion it needs through June, and only $400 million of the $1.5 billion donors pledged earlier this year. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned explicitly that absent more funds, UNHCR will have to stop distributing food to refugees in Lebanon next month. And Jordan, which has the largest population of Syrian refugees, is threatening to close its borders to new entrants unless more aid is forthcoming urgently.

Meanwhile, another UN agency enjoys comfortable funding of about $1 billion a year to help a very different group of refugees–refugees who generally live in permanent homes rather than flimsy tents in makeshift camps; who have never faced the trauma of flight and dislocation, having lived all their lives in the place where they were born; who often have jobs that provide an income on top of their refugee benefits; and who enjoy regular access to schooling, healthcare and all the other benefits of non-refugee life. In short, these “refugees” are infinitely better off than their Syrian brethren–yet their generous funding continues undisturbed even as Syrian refugees are facing the imminent loss of such basics as food and fresh water. I am talking, of course, about UNRWA.

It has long been clear that UNRWA–which deals solely with Palestinian refugees, while UNHCR bears responsibility for all other refugees on the planet–is a major obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Since, unlike UNHCR, it grants refugee status to the original refugees’ descendants in perpetuity, the number of Palestinian refugees has ballooned from under 700,000 in 1949 to over five million today, even as the world’s non-Palestinian refugee population has shrunk from over 100 million to under 30 million. Moreover, while UNHCR’s primary goal is to resettle refugees, UNRWA hasn’t resettled a single refugee in its history: By its definition, refugees remain refugees even after acquiring citizenship in another country. It has thereby perpetuated and exacerbated the Palestinian refugee problem to the point where it has become the single greatest obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement: Israel cannot absorb five million Palestinian refugees (though it could easily absorb the fewer than 50,000 original refugees who still remain alive), yet under UNRWA’s rules, refugee status can’t be ended except by resettlement in Israel.

But an even more basic reason for abolishing UNRWA is the harm it does to the world’s most vulnerable people–real refugees like the Syrians. Were the Palestinians handled by UNHCR like all other refugees are, UNHCR would have the budgetary flexibility to temporarily divert aid from the Palestinians, who need it far less, to people who need it more, like the Syrians today. Instead, it is forced to watch helplessly as Syrian refugees go roofless and hungry while $1 billion in aid is squandered on Palestinians with homes, jobs, and all the comforts of settled life.

Thus, anyone who claims to have a shred of genuine humanitarian concern ought to be agitating for UNRWA’s abolition and the Palestinians’ transfer to UNHCR’s auspices. Unfortunately for the Syrians, it seems that many of the world’s self-proclaimed humanitarians prefer harming Israel to helping those who need it most.

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Germany Again Betrays Iranians’ Human Rights

It’s hard to believe German politicians truly understand what is at stake in Iran. Back in 2008, a German diplomat in Tehran attended—and so gave diplomatic legitimacy—to one of the Islamic Republic’s “Death to Israel” rallies. Last year, several German companies paid money to a sanctioned Iranian bank in order to reserve booths at an Iranian investment fair in Tehran. More recently, the head of the German Green Party high-fived an Iranian diplomat, never mind the Greens’ rhetorical embrace of human rights, women’s rights, and civil society.

Now, according to Germany’s Stop the Bomb campaign, a German federal ministry is subsidizing a conference in Germany hosted by the Evangelische Akademie Loccum which will feature Iranian official Ali Reza Sheikh Attar. As Stop the Bomb explains:

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It’s hard to believe German politicians truly understand what is at stake in Iran. Back in 2008, a German diplomat in Tehran attended—and so gave diplomatic legitimacy—to one of the Islamic Republic’s “Death to Israel” rallies. Last year, several German companies paid money to a sanctioned Iranian bank in order to reserve booths at an Iranian investment fair in Tehran. More recently, the head of the German Green Party high-fived an Iranian diplomat, never mind the Greens’ rhetorical embrace of human rights, women’s rights, and civil society.

Now, according to Germany’s Stop the Bomb campaign, a German federal ministry is subsidizing a conference in Germany hosted by the Evangelische Akademie Loccum which will feature Iranian official Ali Reza Sheikh Attar. As Stop the Bomb explains:

Sheikh Attar is accused to being directly responsible for numerous killings in the Kurdish areas of Iran. Michael Spaney, spokesperson for STOP THE BOMB Germany, asks the Evangelische Akademie to follow the example of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Saxony and the Neuhardenberg Foundation, which have canceled similar events with the Iranian ambassador due to protests.

Iranian-German activist Saba Farzan is absolutely correct when she writes, “To pretend that this conference is designed to strengthen the Iranian civil society is a mockery of the young Iranian generation and their courage.” In his first Nowruz (Persian New Year) message to the Iranian people, Obama broke with tradition to conflate the regime with the people. The Iranian regime’s crushing of the 2009 post-election protests should have put an end to the illusion that the regime had anything to do with civil society. Why the Germans refuse to learn that lesson probably has less to do with ignorance and more with a cynical drive to ingratiate themselves to Iran’s leadership in the hope of making a quick buck, consequences be damned. Even if that is too cynical an interpretation, this conference shows the notion that either the German government or the Lutheran church (which owns the Evangelische Akademie Loccum) care about human rights is risible.

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Vice Media’s Foolish North Korea Stunt

The New Criterion and PJ Media might have to retire their Walter Duranty Prize named after the infamous New York Times correspondent who whitewashed Joseph Stalin’s crimes during the 1930s. I think Dennis Rodman has earned a lifetime achievement award in this category, as Bethany’s post makes clear. It is hard, certainly, to top his fawning tribute to the current and past dictators of North Korea. As the AP reported:

Ending his unexpected round of basketball diplomacy in North Korea on Friday, ex-N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman called leader Kim Jong-un an “awesome guy” and said his father and grandfather were “great leaders.”….

“He’s proud, his country likes him — not like him, love him, love him,” Rodman said of Kim Jong-un. “Guess what, I love him. The guy’s really awesome.”

Those words are accompanied by pictures of Rodman yukking it up with Kim Jong-un at a basketball game involving North Koreans and some Harlem Globetrotters that ended in an improbable 110-110 tie.

I am guessing Rodman missed this Human Rights Watch report, which notes:

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The New Criterion and PJ Media might have to retire their Walter Duranty Prize named after the infamous New York Times correspondent who whitewashed Joseph Stalin’s crimes during the 1930s. I think Dennis Rodman has earned a lifetime achievement award in this category, as Bethany’s post makes clear. It is hard, certainly, to top his fawning tribute to the current and past dictators of North Korea. As the AP reported:

Ending his unexpected round of basketball diplomacy in North Korea on Friday, ex-N.B.A. star Dennis Rodman called leader Kim Jong-un an “awesome guy” and said his father and grandfather were “great leaders.”….

“He’s proud, his country likes him — not like him, love him, love him,” Rodman said of Kim Jong-un. “Guess what, I love him. The guy’s really awesome.”

Those words are accompanied by pictures of Rodman yukking it up with Kim Jong-un at a basketball game involving North Koreans and some Harlem Globetrotters that ended in an improbable 110-110 tie.

I am guessing Rodman missed this Human Rights Watch report, which notes:

Kim Jong-Un’s succession as North Korea’s supreme leader after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il, has had no positive impact on the country’s dire human rights record. More than 200,000 North Koreans, including children, are imprisoned in camps where many perish from forced labor, inadequate food, and abuse by guards. Arbitrary arrest, lack of due process, and torture are pervasive problems. There is no independent media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Government policies have continually subjected North Koreans to food shortages and famine.

Admittedly, Rodman has no reputation to lose to here; this latest foray only reinforces the impression of an out-of-control wild man that basketball fans so vividly remember. But this trip was not just Rodman’s doing. It was underwritten by Vice Media, a documentary film production outfit that is under contract to HBO, a division of the giant Time Warner media empire.

One wonders what Time Warner Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes thinks about the use of his shareholders’ money to fund a public-relations extravaganza on behalf of the worst regime on the planet? Did the filmmakers clear this little foray with Bewkes in advance, or was he as blindsided as the rest of the world?

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Rodman Inadvertantly Shines Light on North Korean Human Rights

For the first time in at least a decade, the world is talking about former basketball star Dennis Rodman. The former Chicago Bull, known for his “quirky” behavior while winning championships with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, made news this week with a short trip to North Korea with members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

The news out of North Korea, both this month and in general, often revolves around its nuclear program and bellicose threats of violence against its neighbors and the United States. Rodman’s visit has stirred outrage thanks to his outspoken support of the country and its dictator Kim Jong-un. Upon leaving the country, Rodman promised that Kim would have a “friend for life” and declared that Kim Jong-un was an “awesome guy” and that his father and grandfather, other homicidal leaders of the country, were “great leaders.”

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For the first time in at least a decade, the world is talking about former basketball star Dennis Rodman. The former Chicago Bull, known for his “quirky” behavior while winning championships with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, made news this week with a short trip to North Korea with members of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

The news out of North Korea, both this month and in general, often revolves around its nuclear program and bellicose threats of violence against its neighbors and the United States. Rodman’s visit has stirred outrage thanks to his outspoken support of the country and its dictator Kim Jong-un. Upon leaving the country, Rodman promised that Kim would have a “friend for life” and declared that Kim Jong-un was an “awesome guy” and that his father and grandfather, other homicidal leaders of the country, were “great leaders.”

What could have prompted this effusiveness from Rodman? Despite the country’s total lack of infrastructure, freedom and food supply, enormous shows and basketball matches were put together for Rodman, the Harlem Globetrotters and their entourage. It’s not likely Rodman was aware of the dire situation for most North Koreans given that as he boarded his flight he tweeted about looking forward to meeting South Korean pop star Psy. Even as he was about to enter the country, Rodman couldn’t differentiate between the poverty-striken North and the affluent and capitalist South.

Many stories in the news media of the visit included reports of the human rights situation in the country. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer declared Rodman achieved a “diplomatic triumph,” however a report from his own network told a different story:

It was unclear whether Rodman, who is accompanied by Globetrotters Bull Bullard, Buckets Blakes and Moose Weekes, will be taken to North Korea’s countryside, where aid groups say malnutrition is rampant.

According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of thousands of people remain enslaved in prison camps, which are “notorious for horrific living conditions and abuse.”

It appears the North Koreans provided the group with “a feast” amidst a reported famine. Gawker, a site not exactly known for its moral compass, put together a fantastic “slideshow” of Rodman’s visit, with excited tweets from group members about their hosts interspersed with pictures of starving North Korean babies and children. TIME Magazine had an equally forceful post shedding light on the reality for the average North Koreans Rodman wasn’t allowed to meet. The human rights group Freedom House told BuzzFeed:

“History is cluttered with the examples of academics, philosophers, renowned writers, and eminent advocates of humane ideals who have aligned themselves with or apologized for the world’s most despicable tyrants,” said Arch Puddington, vice president of research. “Given this context, Dennis Rodman’s choice to pal around with a leader who oversees one massive, countrywide concentration camp is very much in the minor leagues of dictator worship.”

“At minimum, however, Rodman should ponder the fact that he is the product of a free society which allowed him to develop his athletic skills, earn millions of dollars, travel the world, and articulate his often very quirky opinions,” Puddington said. “Those freedoms, and especially the last one, are totally absent under the regime of the man he calls his ‘friend for life.'”

Thanks to Rodman’s visit, the world might actually be paying attention to human rights abuses in the country for the first time in a long time.

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Putting Capitalism on Trial at the ICC

Sometimes you have to wonder whether the editors of the New York Times have a secret wish to sabotage the causes they promote.

Consider the International Criminal Court, the controversial tribunal set up as part of the United Nations human rights system. For years, the Times has promoted the ICC as a modest, last-resort, long-overdue prosecutor of such heinous offenses as war crimes and genocide.

For just as long, ICC skeptics have been warning that the Hague-based tribunal will not always stay confined to its original jurisdiction and will someday seek to prosecute a wider class of less obviously atrocious offenses. Some advocates might even try to turn the court into a roving tribunal mounting show trials against the hated Western power structure. The Times has always dismissed such worries as groundless paranoia.

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Sometimes you have to wonder whether the editors of the New York Times have a secret wish to sabotage the causes they promote.

Consider the International Criminal Court, the controversial tribunal set up as part of the United Nations human rights system. For years, the Times has promoted the ICC as a modest, last-resort, long-overdue prosecutor of such heinous offenses as war crimes and genocide.

For just as long, ICC skeptics have been warning that the Hague-based tribunal will not always stay confined to its original jurisdiction and will someday seek to prosecute a wider class of less obviously atrocious offenses. Some advocates might even try to turn the court into a roving tribunal mounting show trials against the hated Western power structure. The Times has always dismissed such worries as groundless paranoia.

So what turned up in the Times on Wednesday of last week? An op-ed demanding that the ICC be given broad new power to prosecute business people and corporations for taking part in “a vast and unregulated system of extractive capitalism.” “Treat Greed in Africa as a War Crime” blared the headline.

In the op-ed, Yale anthropology professor Kamari Maxine Clarke itemizes a varied list of offenders she seems to think should face ICC prosecution. Chocolate companies based in the West, for example, buy cacao from African farmers so poor that they have their small children work on the crop. The Chinese national oil enterprise plays footsie with the regime in Sudan so as to preserve its favored position. (Yes, in Times-land you can be a Communist state-owned enterprise colluding with another authoritarian government and still count as a representative of unregulated capitalism.) Professor Clarke also thinks the ICC should step in where a multinational enterprise did get punished for misconduct, but should have been punished more. Thus, in one widely noted case where a shipping firm allowed dangerous wastes to be disposed of improperly in West Africa, the firm paid more than $200 million in fines and compensation and two of its employees were sentenced to long prison terms, but critics say the penalties should have been set higher than that. So call in the ICC prosecutors!

Clarke appears to accept without question the various charges of abuse against global business that circulate among cause groups in what is called the human rights community. One complicating factor is that when such complaints are brought before legal systems that accord due process to both sides, we very often discover exaggerations, contradictions or downright inventions in the original sensational claims.  Last week a Dutch court threw out much of a highly-publicized complaint charging Shell with oil pollution in Nigeria. At one point in discussing the chocolate controversy, Professor Clarke recites the contentions of a U.S.-based class-action law firm. Is it necessary to point out that such allegations, levied by firms that face little or no downward risk if their charges don’t pan out, make a doubtful basis for criminal prosecution?

What is certain to happen, if the ICC gains an expansion of authority along the lines Professor Clarke recommends, is that more businesses will be hauled into the dock as a part of what has been called “lawfare,” the use of human rights complaints to provide leverage in the pursuit of international politics. In one of the best-known episodes along these lines, activist lawyers went after Caterpillar Tractor for having sold tractors to the Israeli government, which thus supposedly made the company legally at fault for the bulldozer death of pro-Palestinian protester Rachel Corrie. The suit failed as a legal matter, but might have succeeded in raising the perceived cost of being an American firm willing to trade with Israel.

No doubt some Times readers nodded in approval at Professor Clarke’s argument. But others, I suspect, passed the paper to colleagues with a comment like, “See, I told you the ICC was a bad idea.”

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The Shameful Attack on Israel from Amnesty International

One of the hallmarks of Israel’s international critics is their tendency to blame Israel for all the bad things that happen when the Jewish state’s enemies try–and fail–to destroy it. Yet it is rarely so perfectly distilled with such righteous indignation as the statement offered by the NGO Amnesty International today. Amnesty International should be thanked for its honesty, but its behavior represents yet another new low for the human rights community. Reacting to the news that Israel would not participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of all member states’ human rights records, Amnesty released a statement that began:

If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

Yes, you read that right. The Israel-obsessed behavior of a corrupt UN body that exists solely to scapegoat the Jewish state while having counted as members Qatar, China, Russia, Libya, and Cuba is not ruining an important human rights process. What is ruining the process is Israel’s unwillingness to participate in its own rigged show trial. But all that is nothing compared to the way Amnesty closes its statement:

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One of the hallmarks of Israel’s international critics is their tendency to blame Israel for all the bad things that happen when the Jewish state’s enemies try–and fail–to destroy it. Yet it is rarely so perfectly distilled with such righteous indignation as the statement offered by the NGO Amnesty International today. Amnesty International should be thanked for its honesty, but its behavior represents yet another new low for the human rights community. Reacting to the news that Israel would not participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of all member states’ human rights records, Amnesty released a statement that began:

If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

Yes, you read that right. The Israel-obsessed behavior of a corrupt UN body that exists solely to scapegoat the Jewish state while having counted as members Qatar, China, Russia, Libya, and Cuba is not ruining an important human rights process. What is ruining the process is Israel’s unwillingness to participate in its own rigged show trial. But all that is nothing compared to the way Amnesty closes its statement:

If Israel fails to fully engage in its examination under the Universal Periodic Review during 2013 as required, will the victims of human rights violations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, thank the Israeli government?

Amnesty wants Israel to take its beating or it will not-so-subtly suggest to the victims of the Taliban that they can blame the Jewish state. It would certainly be convenient for Amnesty to do so, since the organization could simply stop putting researchers at risk in dangerous countries and just consolidate its branches in its office in Tel Aviv, where its staffers can unironically fault Israel for every human rights violation unharassed by the democratically-elected Israeli government it is scapegoating.

Israel’s review was supposed to take place this afternoon, and be conducted by three nations–one of them Venezuela. As if it’s unclear why a country would opt-out of such a sham, the United States was apparently engaged in a last-minute push to convince Israel to take its medicine. The Times of Israel reports:

“Tough talks” were held on the matter between senior State Department officials and the head of the Foreign Ministry’s department for foreign organizations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, the paper reported Sunday. The US officials also said that even though Israel’s boycott might be justified, it would eventually harm Israel’s reputation in the international arena.

“We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation,” Eileen Donahoe, Washington’s ambassador to the UNHRC, told reporters in Geneva last week. “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”

Israel is also expected to not cooperate with a probe into the country’s reported use of drones against Palestinian targets, launched last week, Haaretz reported. Israel does not admit to using drones in aerial strikes. The US and Britain are expected to work with the investigation, which does not have official backing from the UNHCR, but was prompted by requests from China, Russia and Pakistan.

I don’t know exactly what the story means when it says the U.S. plans to “work with” the drone investigation, but I’ll give the White House and Foggy Bottom three guesses as to which country is likely to be the next subject of a drone investigation initiated by Pakistan.

Just as Amnesty vowed retribution for Israel’s intransigence, the UN Human Rights Council warned that “appropriate action would be taken.” For its part, the Israeli government made no attempt to hide its contempt for being lectured by the “dictator protection racket,” as the Wall Street Journal has so aptly dubbed the UN:

“It’s hard to understand how the countries that initiated this investigation have any moral right to review or to opine on human rights records of other countries,” an anonymous Israeli official said. “Such countries that have long records jailing and/or assassinating their political opponents are in no position to lecture anyone on human rights.”

That gets it about right. The UN, of course, has every right to ask Israel to participate in the review and drone investigation and take offense when they are rebuffed. But there is no excuse for the shameful comments from Amnesty, an organization that ought to be above making it official policy to blame Israel for human rights violations made by terrorists and dictators simply because the Israelis won’t lend credibility to their perennial accusers.

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Will Human Rights Activists Make War More Deadly?

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has announced an inquiry into the use of drones in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories, and whether drones violate international law. The inquiry comes at the request of Russia, China, and Pakistan, a triad of countries not known for their concern about human rights. That Syria is not also a co-sponsor is probably an oversight on the part of the UN.

Human rights lawyers are notoriously myopic, but this might take the prize. States have made drones a key tool in the fight against terror for one major reason: Drones can access areas inaccessible by ground troops and attack targets with precision. Absent the use of drones, the other option available to states challenged with terrorists operating from hostile or ungoverned territories is to mount an expedition. It is the difference between conducting surgery with a scalpel versus an axe.

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The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has announced an inquiry into the use of drones in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories, and whether drones violate international law. The inquiry comes at the request of Russia, China, and Pakistan, a triad of countries not known for their concern about human rights. That Syria is not also a co-sponsor is probably an oversight on the part of the UN.

Human rights lawyers are notoriously myopic, but this might take the prize. States have made drones a key tool in the fight against terror for one major reason: Drones can access areas inaccessible by ground troops and attack targets with precision. Absent the use of drones, the other option available to states challenged with terrorists operating from hostile or ungoverned territories is to mount an expedition. It is the difference between conducting surgery with a scalpel versus an axe.

Human rights activists increasingly obsess about proportionality. Somehow, they believe that if terrorists or rogue groups have limited weaponry–rockets, mortars, and plastic explosives, for example–it is wrong to attack them with drones, F-18s, or JDAMs. This is nonsense, for the underlying implication is either that those conducting counter-terror operations must use substandard weaponry or that terrorists like Hamas, the Haqqani Network, and Al Qaeda should have access to F-18s and JDAMs as well. In effect, what humanitarian activists want to do is outlaw at least one aspect of the Powell Doctrine: The idea that if the United States is challenged, it should use overwhelming force against its enemy.

I’ve never been opposed to targeted assassination. In 2006, I wrote a lengthy piece for National Review arguing for more targeted killings, especially when their use can save civilian lives. (It is ironic that criticism of the piece among the left stopped when President Obama came to office and made drones his signature counter-terror tool; it seems among many progressive websites, politics trumps principle.)

This does not mean to say that the tactic cannot be over-used: Over-reliance on drones along the Af/Pak border has pushed Al Qaeda elements not into caves, but into the Punjab’s dense urban jungle, a phenomenon which promises to plague international security for decades. Still, the desire to slowly ban military tools in an undeclared war against war itself risks a blowback that few human rights activists fully understand. The best defense against civilian casualties is not for the United Nations to launch politicized crusades against those engaged in the defense of democracies against terrorists, but rather to take a no-nonsense approach to terrorists and their sponsors.

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How to Rein in Bahrain?

In this New York Times op-ed, Bahraini human-rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja makes a powerful case that the US cannot simply overlook the repression taking place in this small Gulf state with which we are closely allied.  She has personal credibility because of what she and her family have been through. She writes:

My father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was beaten unconscious in my apartment in front of my family, as a report last year by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented. He was then taken away with my husband and brother-in-law; they were all tortured.

My husband was released in January, and my brother-in-law was released after a six-month sentence in late 2011; my father was sentenced to life in prison. He staged four hunger strikes; the longest lasted 110 days and almost cost him his life. (He was force-fed at a military hospital.)

She herself was arrested and jailed earlier this month, charged with the “crime” of inciting hatred against the government.

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In this New York Times op-ed, Bahraini human-rights activist Zainab Al-Khawaja makes a powerful case that the US cannot simply overlook the repression taking place in this small Gulf state with which we are closely allied.  She has personal credibility because of what she and her family have been through. She writes:

My father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, was beaten unconscious in my apartment in front of my family, as a report last year by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry documented. He was then taken away with my husband and brother-in-law; they were all tortured.

My husband was released in January, and my brother-in-law was released after a six-month sentence in late 2011; my father was sentenced to life in prison. He staged four hunger strikes; the longest lasted 110 days and almost cost him his life. (He was force-fed at a military hospital.)

She herself was arrested and jailed earlier this month, charged with the “crime” of inciting hatred against the government.

Yet, as she notes, U.S. protests over such clear violations of human rights have been negligible. This is understandable, because Bahrain is the home of the Fifth Fleet and a close military ally. There are also fears that the Bahraini opposition, mainly Shiite in a country ruled by a Sunni royal family, is a stalking horse for Iranian influence. That, at any rate, is what the Bahrain government would like us to believe; but from everything I saw during a brief visit to Bahrain earlier this year, most of the opposition, while undeniably Shiite, is fairly moderate and not interested in creating an Iranian-style theocracy. Ironically what is most likely to drive them into Iran’s arms is if the Bahrain government continues its policy of repression in cooperation with the Saudis.

It is hard for the U.S. to apply pressure to Bahrain by cutting off arms sales (as Zainab Al-Khawaja suggests) or at least making them conditional on human-rights improvements. But it is also a step we need to seriously consider, lest we repeat the mistake we made with Egypt where we gave unconditional backing to another pro-American dictator, acting under the illusion that he could stave off the people’s demands indefinitely. He couldn’t, and, because we didn’t press Mubarak for reform, instead we got a revolution.

That would be the worst possible outcome in Bahrain. Instead, we need to push for the royal family to turn their country into a constitutional monarchy, reserving some power over the armed forces while ceding most authority to the people’s elected representatives. That is the only long-term formula for stability in Bahrain and indeed throughout the Gulf.

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