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Interesting choices for UN Rights Commission

By W. James Antle III
web posted May 7, 2001

The United States has been unceremoniously tossed off the United Nations Human Rights Commission, leaving Americans without a seat on that body for the first time since its inception in 1947. Reasons for this decision include international frustration with US stances on a number of issues, ranging from support of Israel to opposition to the Kyoto accord. Perhaps this stinging rebuke from the esteemed international community will prompt Americans to get with the times and live up to the rest of the world's standards on missile defense, capital punishment, the international land-mine treaty, global warming and making AIDS drugs available to everyone.

If this proves too arduous a task for our political leaders, then we should look to the shining example of a new member of the UN Human Rights Commission: Sudan. Apparently the Sudanese position on reducing greenhouse gases is more to the UN's liking.

Sudan has been the home of violence that has cost more than 2 million lives, a greater death toll than Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia combined, and created 4 million refugees out of a population of 35 million. It is a country in which the Islamic government in the north conducts aerial bombings of villages and other exclusively civilian targets, at least 194 times in the past four years. Sudan's Christian and animist communities face bombardment, murder, rape, torture and mutilation. There have even been reports of infants speared and hung on trees.

The US struggles with its legacy of slavery, but the enslavement of blacks continues in the Sudan. Thousands of women and children have been captured and sold into slavery by government-backed militias and occasionally by regular soldiers. The government claims there is no slavery at all, that these are merely people being held prisoner as a result of tribal warfare, but numerous outside observers contradict this.

In fact, a special report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Commission contradicts Sudan's government line: "All the reports and information received indicate the direct and general involvement of the government, army, PDF, government-armed militias, and mujahadeen groups, backed by the Government of Sudan and fighting beside the army and the paramilitary units, in the abduction and deportation of civilians from the conflict zones to northern Sudan... In the light of this information, the Special Rapporteur concludes that the total passivity of the Government after having received information for years regarding the situation can only be interpreted as tacit political approval and support of the institution of slavery and the slave trade."

Casting a blind eye toward slavery is not the only way the government conducts civil war. Human rights observers have noted that famine is frequently employed as a tool of political persuasion. Christians and animists in particular are violently targeted, with churches, schools and hospitals frequently bombed. Raids have been conducted in which adults have been killed by the most violent means, such as close-range shootings and beheadings, with the children then abducted and sold into slavery. Survivors of this brutal treatment have reported being fed slop and made to live among farm animals. Some children have had their Achilles tendons removed so they could not run away.

Famine, genocide, bombing civilian targets, killing children and infants, armed thugs in government-supported militias, condoning chattel slavery -- yet this human rights record is not confined to Sudan's borders. State Department reports indicate Sudanese complicity in international terrorism, not limited to allegations of harboring the attempted assassins of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Now for a brief synopsis: The US, off the Human Rights Commission, Sudan, on.

Other worthy additions over the past three years to the UN Commission on Human Rights include Syria and Ghadaffi's Libya. These countries may not treat dissidents well, but at least they are not executing cop-killers and the Oklahoma City bomber. Presumably they are also more environmentally conscious.

It almost makes you wonder if the UN is a place where the US could be out-voted by Third World dictatorships. You could even imagine such an international body siding with the Soviet Union at certain moments of the Cold War or passing resolutions condemning Zionism with the fervor many would reserve for anti-Semitism. Must be time to raise our UN dues.

Some Americans will use our exclusion from this commission as ammunition for their pet causes and favorite proposed reforms, urging us to eschew the hubris of American exceptionalism and get with the program. Other wiser heads will be able to tell the difference between policy differences and genuine human rights abuses, and conclude that this vote says more about other countries -- and perhaps the United Nations itself -- than it does the United States.

W. James Antle III is a former researcher for the Rhema Group, an Ohio-based political consulting firm. You can e-mail comments to wjantle@enterstageright.com.

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  • The Un-American United Nations by Steve Farrell (August 23, 1999)
    The UN continues to be marketed as an international version of American ideals; but a study of its founders, charter, and history reveals quite a different picture, says Steve Farrell

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