U.N. human rights chief must be held accountable
GENEVA, Switzerland — The favorite word of Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, appears to be “accountability.” Yet with her own agency tainted by its longtime disregard of Libyan human rights violations — and by apologists for Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi occupying key U.N. positions — it’s high time for the high commissioner to prove that accountability begins at home.
Let’s put aside that in the past three years, U.N. headquarters in New York opened every golden door to the terrorist from Tripoli. Never mind that the Gadhafi regime was granted membership on the elite U.N. Security Council, that its envoy was made president of the U.N. General Assembly or that the dictator’s daughter, Aisha, was named a U.N. “goodwill ambassador.” Indeed, one wonders why Gadhafi bothered trying to pitch his Bedouin tent in the middle of Manhattan when U.N. headquarters itself was already in his hands.
Instead, let’s look only at Pillay’s own human rights apparatus in Geneva.
Start with the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council. Until the current atrocities in Libya, this august body — dominated by members such as China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia — turned a blind eye to Libya.
Well, that’s not entirely true. They once did look at Libya — when the Gadhafi regime won an election last May to become a member of the council by a landslide.
UN Watch led an international coalition of human rights groups, supported by courageous victims of Gadhafi’s torture and terror — to protest. High Commissioner Pillay, however, was silent.
Only last week did the council seek to undo its shameful act by suspending Libya’s membership.
According to our recent study of Pillay’s statements from 2008 to 2010, she never once mentioned human rights in Libya.
The recent annual report of her department, a Geneva staff of many hundreds, boasts of its ardent support for the Durban process, for which she served as secretary-general of its 2009 World Conference on Racism.
When Najat Al-Hajjaji, a representative of the Libyan regime, was chosen to chair that conference’s two-year planning committee, Pillay stood by her side and became the world’s leading cheerleader for Durban II, the follow-up in Geneva to the 2001 anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, that devolved into an anti-Israel festival. Not a word about the brutal regime that stood behind the conference chair.
It gets worse. Al-Hajjaji is, in fact, still operating within Pillay’s office. It turns out she is one of the Human Rights Council’s investigators on human rights violations by mercenaries.
This is no joke: At a time when Gadhafi is using mercenaries to kill his own people, one of his longtime representatives is sitting on the world’s highest human rights body as a supposed defender of human rights — and, of all things, as a defender of victims of mercenaries. Pillay, who worked closely with Al-Hajjaji on Durban II, is refusing to comment, according to Fox News.
Finally, there is the council’s advisory committee. In 2008, ignoring the appeal of UN Watch and 25 human rights groups, the council elected Jean Ziegler, the co-founder of the Muammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize — a propaganda tool for the regime — to the committee, and last year he was made its vice president. Pillay said nothing.
Recipients of the prize include former Cuban President Fidel Castro in 1998; Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2004; Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in 2009; and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2010. In 2002, Ziegler won it himself, sharing the prize with Roger Garaudy, a convicted French Holocaust denier.
The sad reality is that Libya was given a free pass by the U.N. rights system. So were all of the other Middle East dictators. Instead, for the past five years of its existence, the council has pursued a pathological obsession with that region’s only democracy, Israel.
Seventy percent of all the council’s condemnatory resolutions have been against Israel. Six out of 10 urgent sessions criticizing countries have been against Israel. The council has only one standing agenda item on a specific country: Israel.
Defenders of Pillay’s department, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, insist she is independent of the 47-nation council and therefore not directly responsible for its actions. True enough.
Yet sadly, unlike U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his predecessor Kofi Annan, who at various points criticized the council’s anti-Israel selectivity and bias, Pillay has said nothing. On the contrary, on several occasions she has fully endorsed maintaining the special agenda item on Israel, saying it is justified due to “occupation.”
When the Middle East was aflame three weeks ago, Pillay was there. Well, not in the human rights hot spots, such as Egypt, Bahrain or Libya. Instead, she was in Israel, accusing the Jewish state of “discrimination.”
Until the United Nations’ highest human rights officials exorcise their Israel obsession and fix their broken moral compass, murderers like Gadhafi will continue to enjoy impunity.
(Hillel Neuer, an international lawyer who represents Libyan torture victims, is the executive director of UN Watch.)