by Anne Bayefsky
There's breaking news from the United Nations on Syria. Democracy-seekers are dying all over the country. Meanwhile, at the United Nations, negotiations over what would be the organization's first-ever definition of terrorism ended with deadlock on Friday after fifteen years of talking about it.
Leading the naysayers from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) was Syria, a country that claimed that murdering its preferred antagonists doesn't count. That might be just a bad joke, except for the fact that the Obama administration has made the U.N. the centerpiece of its national security policy.
Friday marked the last day of a week-long effort by the U.N. ad-hoc Committee on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism to finalize a comprehensive convention on international terrorism. Negotiations began back in 1996, and courtesy of American taxpayer dollars, they pick up now and again about every six months. Back in 2003, there was a draft put forward by a coordinator charged with bridging gaps, but the OIC objected because a definition of terrorism should "distinguish it from the legitimate struggle of peoples against foreign occupation." Then again in 2007 a draft compromise failed because the OIC said the proposed definition failed to draw a "distinction between terrorism and peoples' struggle for self-determination and against foreign occupation."
On Friday, with four more years of diplomatic lunches under their belt, the OIC and its Syrian spokesperson said no deal because there is a "distinction between terrorism and the struggle for the rights of self-determination by people under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination." Representatives from Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia immediately voiced their wholehearted agreement. In plain language, Islamic states including Muslim "allies" of the United States, insist that all Israelis, Americans who get in their way, or anybody else nowadays who objects to President Bashar Assad's idea of "self-determination," are fair game.
And Syria's run at the U.N. on Friday didn't end there.
Syria is currently running for a seat on the U.N.'s flagship "human rights" body, the Human Rights Council. Seats are allocated to five regional groups, and just to make sure Syria's ascendancy is unimpeded, the Asian group has only nominated the same number of states as they have seats. So barring any unexpected additions, Syria will join fellow U.N. human rights authorities like Saudi Arabia on the Council in May.
The U.N. does have a "test" for Human Rights Council wannabes. They call it a pledge system – candidates should promise to protect human rights. In the words of the 2006 General Assembly resolution that created the Council (the Bush administration and Israel casting a negative vote), when electing candidates "voluntary pledges and commitments made" "to the promotion and protection of human rights" should be "taken into account."
Syria has been a quick study. Its pledge, obligingly posted on the U.N. website, says: "Promotion and protection of human rights are of highest importance to Syria…Syria's candidature to the Human Rights Council signifies its commitment to respect and to support the inalienable and indivisible nature of all human rights."
That might be another bad joke. Except that the Obama administration announced on March 30 that it was so "pleased to note the landmark achievements of the most recent session of the U.N. Human Rights Council" that it was going to seek a second term. That characterization of the Council's main March session is somewhat dubious, at least if the administration cared at all about the concept of equality and the welfare of Israel. The last session was the worst on record for the demonization of the Jewish state, the Council adopting more anti-Israel resolutions in one sitting than ever before. The wildly premature announcement – the U.S. term will end in December 31, 2012 according to a new General Assembly deal – erases any possibility of using prospective U.S. membership or associated dollars as clout.
Which brings us back to Syria. Obama diplomats have been making tiny noises about attempting to institute criteria for belonging to the Council that have something to do with a country's actual human rights record. On Friday, Syrians diplomats treated the toothless Obama speechifying with the ridicule it so richly deserved.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari warned "those who call for reviewing membership criteria" that the move "would bring unpleasant surprises." In addition to his country's penchant for bashing heads, what he meant by this threat was a list of seventeen membership "criteria that have to be met in case this matter is re-visited."
Syrian thugs think these states should be disqualified from Human Rights Council membership: "colonial states," states which "…have taken part in the slave trade and not apologized,… propagate Islamophobia…and all forms of cultural discrimination, …ignore international legitimacy,…interfere in the internal affairs of other UN members,…foster state terrorism,…and cause greenhouse effects and global warming."
However ludicrous, make no mistake about how this classic U.N. debate will turn out. The U.S. idea of caring about human rights as a qualification for membership will be set off against Syria's list and result in maintaining the status quo – namely, the laughable pledge. There is no possibility whatsoever, that the same countries who comprise the majority of members of the U.N. General Assembly – only 87 of 192 are fully free democracies according to Freedom House – are going to police themselves. Even if the Syrian candidacy is eventually challenged, there is no shortage of like-minded comrades to join Cuba, China, Russian and the Saudis on the U.N.'s idea of a human rights body.
Sadly, none of the above stopped United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice from telling lawmakers on Capitol Hill a week ago that "the U.N. promotes universal values Americans hold dear" and "the United Nations… make[s] Americans safer." With the Obama administration looking to the U.N. for guidance on protecting "human rights" and combating "terrorism," Americans are in serious trouble.
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