Human rights and the ‘flawed’ UN council

Walid Jawad

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If you park your car in Washington DC and exceed your parking meter limit, you will get a ticket.

Ten or 15 years ago, you could have decided to leave your car parked in that expired spot for another few hours if you wished. Once you get back to your car, you will probably find a parking ticket on your windshield. The amount on that ticket is comparable to the cost of parking in a public garage.

Nowadays, parking enforcers will give you multiple tickets the longer you violate the parking time limit. How many tickets you will get is arbitrary depending on how fast the parking enforcement officer makes the rounds and how many rounds they make.

Every time an officer passes by your car observing the expired meter they can, and probably will, issue a parking ticket. You have the freedom to challenge additional tickets based on the officer’s biased against you or your car.

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You have the right to argue that your car was issued more tickets than other violator. You may want to summon the officer’s ticket issuing history to show a disproportionate focus on your car, but in the end your bias claims doesn’t address you violating the parking time-limit. The fact remains that your car continued to violate the law allowing the officer to issue any number of tickets.

In a way, this is similar to the UN Human Rights Council continued focus on Israel. The Council has issued disproportionate condemnations against Israel criticizing it for its continued violations of human rights.

There is no annual upper limit for how many countries or situations the UNHRC is able to examine. Highlighting Israel’s human rights violations does not preclude the council from examining other violations by other countries.

In order for global community to advance human rights it is incumbent on governments to make human rights a priority each within its borders

Walid Jawad

Structural problems

It is necessary to understand that the UN Human Rights council has structural problems and so does the UN itself. Such problems do not by any means nullify the positive work it performs. The UN was not conceived with equity or fairness in mind, yet it is the most effective global structure to mediate between nations.

And while the UNHRC, as a subset of this flawed body of nations, can appear biased, it has been able to do some good work applying pressure on governments and perpetrators; the inquiry on Syria including war crimes and crimes against humanity, fact-finding mission on Myanmar, collecting evidence on South Sudanese accountability for war crimes, inquiry o Burundi and others.

The relevant criteria to assess human rights is to make observable incremental progress. On the day the US announced its withdrawal from the UNHRC, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said with a frustrated voice: “While we have seen improvement in certain human rights situations, for far too long that progress comes too slowly and in some cases never comes.”

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Long as there is improvement toward enhancing the human condition, even a slow one, makes the effort of working through the UNHRC a worthy endeavor. But Pompeo goes on to say that “the Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights, worse than that, the Human Rights Council became an exercise in shameless hypocrisy with the world’s most human rights abuses going ignored and some of the world’s worst human rights abusers sitting on the council itself.”

Because the UNHRC continues to fulfil its mission, the US shouldn’t be distracted by the dysfunction of the flawed system. If the administration is that discontent with the council it should work on reforming it.

Sure, the US is capable of working on human rights issues outside of the council and it does, but working through the UNHRC offers the US an extra powerful option to apply the collective pressure of council when the situation warrants it. On the whole, many of the criticism of this UN chartered body are valid yet they do not justify the US decision to withdraw.

The president of the council, Vojislav Šuc, in accepting the withdrawal of the US, said “in the past 12 years [the council] has tackled numerous human rights situations and issues keeping them in sharp focus.” It is revealing to hear how the council views itself; i.e. as a body that is charged with bringing attention to human rights issues.

Limited authority

The UNHRC has a limited authority and narrow scope to examine human rights situations and issuing non-binding recommendations. Šuc continued by saying “in many cases the council serves as an early warning system sounding the bells of impending or worsening actions.”

In order for the global community to advance human rights it is incumbent on governments to make human rights a priority each within its own borders. Unfortunately some human rights aspects are harder to define than others. Gender equality can be assessed through direct comparison on a statistical basis.

The majority of countries, developed and developing, can do more to close the gap on gender inequality. The vast majority of women are disadvantaged globally regardless of the economic, cultural, and religious makeup of the society they live within.

Health, education, and the right to work are aspects of human rights, which are easier to assess statistically. While violating the human right issue of privacy, for instance, is harder to detect and rectify. Governments tend to justify their discriminatory violation of privacy under a cloak of national security concerns.

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At times, the external pressures of condemnation by the world community will provide support for human rights activists. The international outcry against the US of the now reversed policy of separating minors from their parents as they illegally cross the US southern border is a case in point.

The US has legal and political mechanisms to rectify such violation, but external condemnations provided moral support to local efforts resulting in an executive order to stop the exceptionally cruel practice. This is a reminder that human rights need consistent defending and global vigilance.

The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it eloquently when he wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” It is not an option to wait until all of the conditions are perfect to contribute to the collective effort of UNHRC. The US must reconsider its decision to withdraw from the council.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj.

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