In May, Conservative backbencher Larry Miller stated that he thought it was time for Canada to rethink its involvement with the UN. This is an excellent statement, which should lead to a debate in this country about Canada’s involvement in the UN. While quitting the UN altogether is a non-starter, the UN is made up of many different bodies, some of which are useful and some of which are corrupt to the point of being completely counterproductive. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an example of the latter.
Since March 2011, the Assad regime in Syria has been brutally repressing an uprising that began as a peaceful protest. It is estimated that 14,000 people have lost their lives in the past year and reports of torture, rape, and unlawful imprisonment by the military are rampant. Despite this, however, Syria is currently a candidate for a seat on the Human Rights Council in 2014 and likely to win. Syria has long been one of the worst human rights violators in the world, but this has not kept it, nor many other countries amongst the worst human rights abusers on the planet, from seeking and gaining a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.
The reason for this is and the primary problem of the UNHRC is that the rotating membership is done by regional elections. However, it has become habit for regions to only field as many states as there are spots on the council. This means that Syria will be one of four countries running for exactly four spots allotted to Asia. This system allows chronic human rights abusers to shield themselves from resolutions and sanctions of the UNHRC by assuring that chronic human rights abusing countries make up part of the UNHRC in a gentlemen’s agreement of ‘don’t notice my crimes and I won’t notice yours’.
What should Canada do? This country should immediately stop funding the UNHRC and stop seeking membership until reforms are made. What reforms? I would propose three very simple questions be asked of countries seeking membership on the UNHRC, answering any one of them with a ‘yes’ would automatically make that country ineligible for membership or automatically suspend membership if the answer became ‘yes’ after elections. My proposed questions would be:
Do journalists in your country face death or imprisonment for criticizing the government or its policies?
Is homosexuality in your country a crime punishable by imprisonment or death?
Have your armed forces or police responded to a protest by firing machine guns into the crowds in the last five years?
People may think that this is a laughably low bar for election to the UNHRC, but it would be a huge improvement over the status quo. Currently, there are several members of the UNHRC answering yes to these questions.
Djibouti: Journalists currently in jail for criticizing the government. All journalism conducted through a company controlled by the state.
China: Journalists currently in jail for criticizing the government.
Kuwait: Sex between two consenting adult males punishable by seven years imprisonment.
Saudi Arabia: Maximum penalty for sex between two consenting adult males is death.
Libya: Elected in 2010, did not lose its seat even when the government put down peaceful protests with machine guns.
Russia: Journalists regularly arrested and murdered. 365 journalists killed or missing from 1993-2009.
Cuba: Elected in 2009. The last two journalists who were in jail were finally deported to Spain in 2011.
Respect for human rights has to start at home. Imagine having a country where the punishment for being gay is death, elected as a member of something called the United Nations Human Rights Council. We can’t have the foxes guarding the hen house. Setting a minimum domestic human rights standard for member countries would help bestow functionality and credibility to the UNHRC. Canada should be aggressive in pushing for reforms and if the human rights abusers of the world wish to keep the UNHRC a corrupt institution meant to shield themselves from scrutiny, at the very least, they can do so without our money.
The United Nations is composed of virtually all states. There are many states on the Human Rights Council that do not live up to international human rights standards. Canadians must not be unduly self-righteous about this. Canada has significant human rights problems. Middle class Canadians tend to be blind to some persistent violations of economic, social and cultural rights and indigenous people’s rights. However, there are some serious concerns about civil and political rights as well, including freedom from torture (which includes the right not to be sent somewhere else to be tortured) and freedom of assembly (yes, the Quebec legislation does violate international standards). The US is currently on the HRC — it’s record is not so hot, either. Time for Canadians to get off the high horse and begin to 1) learn about international human rights 2) insist that our governments implement human rights treaties in force in Canada. Canada’s defensiveness with the UN is propaganda swallowed and promulgated by uninformed journalists.
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A fantastic article! Very commendable to see a much needed critique of the UNHRC in The Manitoban. Bravo Mr. Haddad!
As for the above commentator – no country is perfect, even democracies such as Canada and the United States, and such imperfection must absolutely continued to be criticized and ameliorated. However, there is a huge distinction between the imperfections of democracies such as Canada and the United States and the imperfections of violent autocracies such as Syria. Pointing out the flaws in the Canadian record on human rights in no way overshadows the argument Mr. Haddad puts forth – that is, that countries with the most abysmal human rights records in the world should not be eligible for seats on the UNHRC (and undoubtedly, Canada does not fall within this category, as there are unfortunately many countries in this world with far, far worse records, as Syria certainly exemplifies). By extension of Mr. Haddad’s argument, the countries deserving of seats on the UNHRC ought to be those with the world’s best records of human rights (a category Canada’s inclusion in could certainly be argued for).
It’s a very simple argument for moral clarity Catscam. The question is very simple, do you think there should be some kind of minimum human rights standard for a country to be on the human rights council? Libya and Syria put down peaceful protests by ordering their armies to fire machine guns into crowds, killing dozens of people in both examples. Saudi Arabia and Iran execute people for being gay, the death penalty for being day. You think its unduly self righteous to suggest those countries should not be allowed on the human rights council? Do you not see those problems as being more serious than a law in Quebec putting conditions on protests?
BTW, the government of Canada doesn’t send people to be tortured, please name one individual that happened to.