Fight UN Human Rights Council's inaction

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) — established in 2006, the name alone invokes a sense of justice, of doing the right thing for all people, regardless of race or gender. As the abhorrent killing of innocent protesters continues in Libya, with a death toll breaching the thousands and the quelling of recent protests and basic freedoms continuing in Iran, one would expect this council to enact resolutions condemning these acts. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay's challenged the council — the council is independent of her — on Tuesday to live up to its calling and take urgent action to help stop bloodshed.

The council has since responded with a statement. Not a resolution, not a call for investigation into the matter of hundreds of innocents killed in open streets — just a statement. When last year's flotilla incident in the Mediterranean Sea occurred, the UNHRC was all over it, launching a separate investigation and issuing a more than 50-page report accusing Israel of violating human rights and international humanitarian law. That was for the unfortunate death of nine people among many onboard who, in a controversial attempt to break an embargo, violently attacked Israel Defense Forces soldiers as they boarded the ship.

And as for the deaths of several hundreds of innocent protestors in Libya, as Libyan pilots are being ordered to bomb the crowds? Thus far, just a statement, though there is a meeting this Friday to discuss a resolution. The inaction thus far should not be too shocking however, as Libya is currently a member of the UNHRC, along with various other nations with questionable human-rights records, such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, who both are in fear of popular uprisings modeled after the Egyptian democratic movement. Many countries belonging to the council have their human rights abuses well documented, even if the UNHRC does not take them to task. And while Iran was not elected to the council, it was elected to serve this year on the U.N.'s 45-member Commission on the Status of Women, a body dedicated to "gender equality and advancement of women." The sheer notion of Iran sitting on that council is ludicrous.

The UNHRC did meet last Friday, though not to discuss the recent violence in northern Africa. No, what the council found more immediately necessary than acting on the reprehensible and abhorrent actions of one of its own members was Israeli settlements.

To be clear, settlement policy is central to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but settlements are not the sole issue central to the peace process — let alone Middle East peace — especially when Israel has repeatedly indicated a willingness to discuss the future of settlements in direct talks and even acted on it in the past through the 2005 withdrawal from settlements in Gaza, only to be met by rocket fire. Rocket fire that was also ignored in the meeting, as the council again failed to condemn the hundreds of missiles fired just this year at Israeli towns — missiles whose aim, pure and simple, is to harm as many civilians as possible. It should be noted that a grad rocket was fired on Beersheba just two days ago.

The United States joined six other nations, including Canada and Israel, in opposing the UNHRC's draft resolution on its working rules in 2007, on the basis that the agency was ignoring human-rights violations around the globe while obsessively focusing on Israel. It would seem the UNHRC has continued to ignore the world while instead focusing on the sole Middle East democratic state. It would behoove the entire international community to speak out against the UNHRC's continued inaction and hypocrisy, to call for the expulsion of Libya from the council — as many have done recently — and for the council to begin working towards enacting resolutions to condemn all human-rights violations, regardless of their country of origin. "It is certainly up to the council members if they want to reinforce or maintain any credibility," said Frej Fenniche, an aide to Pillay who heads the Middle East and North Africa department.

The UNHRC is set to finally meet this Friday to discuss a draft resolution regarding the recent events in Libya and discuss Libya's role in the council. One can only hope it will be more productive than recent meetings.

Ehud Cohen is a School of Engineering junior majoring in electrical and computer engineering.


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