Scott Garrett: U.N. Human Rights Council a ‘backwards step’

Scott Garrett: U.N. Human Rights Council a ‘backwards step’

Garrett urges president to withdraw U.S. from council

In a letter to President Obama, Rep. Scott Garrett urged him to withdraw the United States from the Human Rights Council.

Despite its name, the U.N. Human Rights Council has a deplorable human rights record, said Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5), who organized a bipartisan congressional letter to President Obama urging him to withdraw the United States from the council.

“It’s ignored human-rights violations,” Garrett told The Jewish Standard on Tuesday, shortly after he sent the letter. “We’ve seen in the past year in Iran there were allegations of brutality by the government toward its own people, killing their own people. That’s all ignored by the council.”

According to the letter, signed by 33 members of the House of Representatives, “The decision of your administration to join the Human Rights Council in March 2009 marks a backwards step in recognizing the human rights of individuals across the globe.”

It goes on to state that the council “effectively ignored the urgent human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan, and also failed to take any real action on the deplorable behavior of the Iranian government during its general election in June 2006.”

The letter also cited the June election of Cuba, which the U.S. State Department classifies as a state sponsor of terrorism, to the vice chairmanship of the council.

“What you’re doing here is lending credibility and taxpayer dollars to a hypocritical organization,” Garrett told the Standard. “When you have a council that has issued more resolutions that condemn Israel than all of the other countries combined, there’s no simple reforming by being at the table.”

Felice Gaer, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, argued that the United States joined the council to change it, and change has to come from within the council.

“The purpose of running for the council was for the purpose of changing it. You don’t change it by not being there,” she said. “When the U.S. was not a member of the council, the U.S. point of view was irrelevant.”

The Obama administration last year tapped Gaer, a Paramus resident, to attend a preparatory meeting for the United Nations Conference Against Racism, dubbed Durban II.

The United States joined the Human Rights Council last year after years of refusing to join. In a 2007 address to the U.N. General Assembly, President George W. Bush said, “The American people are disappointed by the failures of the Human Rights Council. This body has been silent on repression by regimes from Havana to Caracas to Pyongyang and Tehran – while focusing its criticism excessively on Israel.”

Gaer pointed out that the Human Rights Council has a five-year review scheduled for 2011, which represents an opportunity for major change. The United States, she said, has more credibility to press for that change, serving on the council.

Its precursor, the Commission on Human Rights, established in 1946, became known as a haven for the worst violators of human rights, such as Cuba, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and the council’s 2003 chair, Libya. In turn, the commission condemned Israel with what many called a clear bias. Then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote in a 2005 report that the commission’s “declining credibility and professionalism . . . cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations’ system as a whole.”
The General Assembly created the Human Rights Council in 2006 to replace the discredited commission. The Human Rights Council has, however, received much of the same criticism as its predecessor. Council members include Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Libya, China, Pakistan, and Nigeria. The first three of the council’s special sessions in 2006 focused on Israel.

“It is the height of irony that the United Nations Human Rights Council sees fit to disproportionately and unfairly criticize Israel while not addressing the egregious human rights record of many of its own members,” said Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) in a statement to the paper. Rothman was not a signatory to the letter.

“The Obama Administration has said that they decided to participate in this Council to fight ‘against the anti-Israel crap.’ I think that so long as our presence on this misnamed council reduces the anti-Israel ‘crap’ coming out of the committee, our membership is worthwhile.”

The United States’ term on the council expires in 2012.

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