United Nations Humans Rights Council: A Futile Embarrassment
By: Avery Scope Crafts
In the time since President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines came into office, more than 7,000 drug-related killings have taken place. The police have been directly responsible for at least 2,500 of those alleged criminals’ deaths. “Alleged” is the key word. The president has advocated for law enforcement agencies to kill people merely suspected of drug involvement, working off unverified lists of people thought to be drugs users. Mr. Duterte has even gone as far as promising immunity for such murders. Amnesty International’s investigation into the matter discovered fabricated police reports, government-paid killers, and extrajudicial executions.
Thankfully, there exists an organization comprised of powerful countries purposed for situations just like this: The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Created in 2006 by the UN General Assembly, the Council is comprised of 47 member states committed to strengthening “the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.” Indeed, it did not take long for the UNHRC to address the mass killings, but that is about as far as their ability to foster change goes. The Council’s power is restricted to the means of “dialogue, capacity building, and technical assistance.” When faced with the horrors in the Philippines, it could merely urge the country to stop the unlawful killings.
This weak attempt at persuasion does not fit the appropriate reaction to such horrors. The Council’s “urge” for action cannot be heard over the deafening thud of dead bodies hitting the Filipino pavement. On its present course, filled with internal conflicts and external inactivity, currently restricted civil liberties will be forever oppressed.
The violence in the Philippines is not isolated. Catastrophes of equal damage are unfortunately becoming a norm, especially in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, free speech remains a repressed right. Famous activist Waleed Abu al-Khair is in the midst of serving an unbelievable prison sentence as a result of his peaceful criticism of the very human right abuses that stripped him of his freedom. Raif Badawi, a prominent blogger, was publicly lashed in 2015 for allegedly insulting religious authorities.
In Egypt, the judicial system is nearly beyond repair due to a multitude of political and military reasons, further exacerbated by the lack of outside help. The government’s attack on the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition group, has landed thousands in jail. Hundreds more have been handed down death sentences, with little to no evidence supporting the verdicts.
These countries are just three of many where subjugation of human liberties dominates everyday life, yet nothing is done to ameliorate the situation. At this point, the Council’s infamous verbal warnings resonate as a desperate plea to those responsible for the abuse of human rights.
The UNHRC’s evident ineffectiveness abroad is far from the only problem in need of reform; the faulty underlying structure of the organization must be changed. Seats on the Council are shared among five regional groups that have a designated number of allotted seats. In 2016, when four spots opened up for Asian countries, just four applied: China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Japan. Of course, all were successful in their try.
One would think that the members would be carefully picked and exceptional representatives who epitomize the values of the Council. However, countries known for their inhumane treatment of their citizens, such as the aforementioned Saudi Arabia, have recently been re-elected to the Human Rights Council, while Canada would have to campaign against the likes of the United States to join.
The undeserving countries present on the Council exist not to carrying out their duty to strengthen human rights, but rather to defend their country from criticism while simultaneously attacking others. This hypocrisy is most noticeable in the UNHRC’s relentless attack on Israel. The UNHRC dedicated over half of its first 103 resolutions on Israel alone. One of those resolutions, passed in 2014, was supposedly purposed to address human rights violations in Gaza yet failed to do so much as mention Hamas once, the very terrorist organization involved in the crisis.
In that same time period, the Council did not hold a single session devoted to human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. The obsession over Israel is in part a consequence of the Islamist countries present on the UNHRC (such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Bangladesh) that are devoted to Israel’s demise; the same countries that have been gifted unmerited seats on the Council.
Incredulously, the current state of the UNHRC may get even worse barring recent news. The United States, led by President Trump’s administration, is seriously considering leaving the Council. Although the U.S. has threatened to do so before, this is the first time the withdrawal could very well become a reality. Secretary of State Rex Tillerman is pledging a U.S. exit unless the organization undergoes “considerable reform,” referring to the repetitive bashing of Israel and the overall ineffectiveness of the Council.
It is irrelevant to this article whether the Trump administration is justified in their threat to leave. One thing is vividly clear: The United States is needed on the UNHRC, plain and simple. The Council would be losing one of its few essential members that has shown interest in improving the horrible current human rights situation worldwide.
The inexistence of the UNHRC’s success to create positive change leaves the world in a scary position, which would be further deteriorated by the U.S. following through on their threat to leave. Staying on its current course for much longer may permanently cement the Council’s contemporary state of inadequacy. The next steps it takes to respond to this adversity have enormous impacts that extend far beyond the organization, from affecting innocent people in the Philippines to citizens of Saudi Arabia. As tensions grow globally, the demand for protection of basic human rights will only rise. It is the United Nations Human Rights Council’s job to be there when that assistance is needed.