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The United Nations Devolves Into Farce

United Nations Human Rights Council in session.
United Nations Human Rights Council in session, Geneva, February 2016.
Photo by Eric Bridiers, courtesy the United States Mission Geneva.

The United Nations, which carried a war-ravaged world’s hopes and dreams when it was born 75 years ago, has long since descended into virtual irrelevance. Now it has succeeded in becoming a farce.

That body’s final devolution was certified with last week’s election of China, Russia and Cuba as members of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The council’s stated mission is “the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.”

That’s China, where some 1 million Uighur Muslims have been interned for “reeducation” in secret prisons and camps. China, where cultural suppression has long been state policy, from Shanghai’s churches to Tibet’s monasteries.

That’s Russia, where domestic and expatriate critics of President Vladimir Putin have an uncanny knack for getting imprisoned, shot or poisoned. The same Russia from which “little green men” in uniforms lacking insignia have been diligently gnawing off sections of neighboring Ukraine since 2014 to prevent its government from aligning itself with the West. (Ukraine, bizarrely enough, was reelected to the Human Rights Council in the same vote last week. That should make for some cozy conversations.)

That’s Cuba, which six decades of totalitarianism has turned into a dirt-poor island prison whose citizens regularly try to escape on virtually anything that might float.

“Farce” is just about the only word that describes this pitiful spectacle.

While not the least bit entertaining, it is in fact political theater – scripted, at that. The human rights body is structured in a way that virtually guarantees some of the world’s worst rights abusers a veto over any legitimate examination of their conduct. Seats on the 47-member body are dispensed to ensure “equitable geographic distribution.” This would make sense in a world where respect for human rights was distributed with similar equity. At present, that world isn’t our own.

Human Rights Watch’s U.N. director, Louis Charbonneau, applauded the election’s small success at keeping Saudi Arabia off the Human Rights Council, but pointed out that it only highlighted the absurdity of other winners. “Saudi Arabia’s failure to win a seat on the Human Rights Council is a welcome reminder of the need for more competition in U.N. elections,” Charbonneau said. “Had there been additional candidates, China, Cuba and Russia might have lost too.”

Each region elects its own representatives by secret ballot. The seat allocation, if you are interested, is 13 seats to Africa, 13 to the Asia-Pacific region, six to “Eastern European states” including Russia, eight to Latin America and the Caribbean, and seven to “Western European and other States.” Congratulations, my fellow Americans: We are an “other state.”

That’s not really a problem, though. President Donald Trump had the impolitic honesty to withdraw the United States from this Orwellian body two years ago.

The U.N. still serves a purpose, albeit primarily as a cushy overseas posting for politically connected swells from around the globe. On rare occasions that grab world attention, yet do not involve critical great-power interests, the Security Council bestirs itself to pass a meaningful resolution to impose sanctions or put a cease-fire in place. As for the General Assembly and its peripheral bodies, the Human Rights Commission notable among them, it would be small loss to this country if the entire affair packed up and decamped from Manhattan’s East Side. They could relocate to Switzerland, or to any other jurisdiction more amenable to traffic, pomposity and diplomatic cynicism. Maybe the locals in such a place will find this farce more entertaining than we do.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.

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