Friday, December 15, 2006

With Friends Like These, NAM, Darfur and Palestine

There's No Monopoly on Hypocrisy

In an exemplary display of chutzpah this week, John Bolton and former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold called for the International Criminal Court to go after the Iranian President. Please note that this is the International Criminal Court whose founding Rome Treaty Bolton "unsigned" and which he has spent six years trying to sabotage.

One has to admit that having Bolton as the US Ambassador was a good excuse for a lot of silly behavior by alienated Third World delegations. But it is not a good enough excuse for their collusion in covering up violations of human rights. Since the controversial Human Rights Council was established, the Non-Aligned have behaved as if they deliberately trying to vindicate Bolton and the pro-Israeli anti-UN lobby.

Of course I am not complaining that the Council sees fit to criticize Israel for its human rights violations--often. After all Israel often violates the human rights of its Palestinian and Lebanese neighbors and the various pro-Israeli UN-Watch and NGO-Monitor sites could productively suggest to the Israeli government that the best way to avoid being in the dock is to stop committing crimes.

But providing cover for tyrannies like Uzbekistan or Belarus, as the non-aligned majority has done this year, blocking resolutions on their practices, is to give the Palestinian cause a bad name in an equally hypocritical way. Human Rights are too important to indulge hypocrisy.

In his valedictory speech to Human Rights Watch last Friday, Kofi Annan pointed this out and more. In a recent interview with me, he commented that "The question of double standards is a question you never get away from when you touch the Middle East, whether you are discussing the Middle East in the region or outside the region. We’ve often been accused that UN resolutions are implemented selectively, and I try to explain that we can only implement these resolutions with the cooperation of the member states. In situations where the member states concerned do not cooperate it’s extremely difficult for the UN to impose any resolutions."

In particular, of course, is the issue of Darfur, where all the objective evidence shows that the Sudanese government is backing a murderous militia in mass killings, rapes and ethnic cleansing of local people. Having outvoted a resolution that named the government, the Non-Aligned and Muslim countries on the Human Rights Council supported an African Union resolution that passed condemning the killings--without mentioning the government that was organizing the murders.

This is a travesty that plays into the hands of Israel supporters. Most of those campaigning for Darfur are sincere humanitarians, but there many among them who see it as a wonderful opportunity for anti-Arab propaganda. And who can blame them--it is a wonderful opportunity, handed to them on a plate by the Arab and African governments who will not speak up against Khartoum.

However, as a testament to the efficacy of international and popular pressure, including strong words from Annan, in the end, the Council realized it was losing all credibility and was forced to agree to hold a special session this week, which decided to send a team to Sudan to investigate. But even now, the only references to the Sudanese government are to thank it for its cooperation. The five person team will be picked by the President of the Council after "informal consultations" among members, which means that he will have to resist governmental pressures to appoint those who will not rock the boat with Khartoum.

There are some caveats here. The situation in Darfur and Sudan is much more complex than some of these lobby groups would have us believe. Some of them take the UN to task because it refuses to call what is happening there genocide, which makes one suspect their motivation. In fact the UN inspectors reported that what the Jinjaweed were doing may be "no less serious and heinous than genocide."

For a close look at the complexity of the issues see Alex De Waal's piece in the current London Review of Books.

Darfur should matter to the Palestinians, despite the large cheque the Sudanese handed over to the Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniyah. Diplomatically, the Palestinians have lost ground, not least because of the large, and very important, European Union bloc whose support for entirely correct resolutions has wavered. The EU members are under heavy pressure from the US, and they have a Trojan horse in their midst, in the form of Tony Blair’s Britain. But externally, the Non-Aligned’s stance on overall human rights issues, and its seeming refusal to accept that anyone other than Israel violates international humanitarian law, has certainly made it easier for Blair and Bush to pull the EU away from its former commitment to international law on the Middle East to a more expedient view.

That is a much larger threat than the handful of Pacific coral atolls which are the only active supporters of Israel that the US can muster. And the way to deal with it is for delegations that really care about the Palestinians to is to do the right thing by supporting human rights wherever they are violated, regardless of which government is doing the violating – or indeed even if it is terrorists depriving people of the fairly fundamental right to life.. There is really no excuse for democracies like India and South Africa to cover up for Uzbekistan, Belarus--or Sudan, just as there are no real excuses for EU collusion with Israel's violations.

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