Who guards the guardians?

Who guards the guardians?
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U.S. Ambassador Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyOddsmakers say Harris, not Biden, most likely to win 2024 nomination, election The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden, lawmakers start down a road with infrastructure Nikki Haley says if Trump runs for president in 2024 then she won't MORE was right to lead efforts over the past year to reform the United Nations Human Rights Council, a 47-nation body that suffers a credibility deficit, with its work often marked by selectivity and politicization.

Haley urged the council to improve its membership standards, and to end its singular focus on Israel. After a year of diplomatic prodding, she realized the will wasn’t there. On June 19, the United States decided to withdraw its membership.

Several activist groups close to the United Nations lobbied member states to oppose the U.S. withdrawal. Afterward, in an op-ed in The Hill, Human Rights Watch (HRW) director Ken Roth expressed outrage that Haley called out his organization and Amnesty International for having sided with Russia and China in blocking the proposed reform.


Roth is wrong to whitewash the council’s betrayal of its mission, and to suggest that HRW and Amnesty are above reproach.

Interestingly, in a five-year period, Roth completely switched his position. “Imagine a jury,” he wrote in 2001, speaking of the U.N.’s old Commission on Human Rights, “that includes murderers and rapists, or a police force run in large part by suspected murderers and rapists who are determined to stymie investigation of their crimes.”

Yet by 2006, after Kofi Annan successfully moved to scrap the discredited commission and replace it, Roth became the council’s biggest cheerleader — before it was even born, and despite only limited changes.

What caused this flip-flop? The Bush administration had clashed with the United Nations over the Iraq war, and Republicans frequently pointed to the Human Rights Commission, which named Libya as its chair in 2003, as a symbol of the world body’s pathologies. When Bush opposed the 2006 reform, Roth became for it.

When I debated Roth a month before the council opened in 2006, when even the New York Times called the reform an “ugly sham,” he insisted there was “an enormous difference” between the old commission and the new council. “Under this new system," Roth told BBC, “countries with poor human rights records ... will never have a seat on the council again.” Yet the opposite is true: Numerous tyrannies have won seats.

In his op-ed, Roth concedes that “some abusive countries” manage to secure membership. Some? Since 2006, the number of council members who fail to meet basic democracy standards has hovered in the range of 50 to 60 percent. So much for the “enormous difference.”

The council has never produced a single resolution, urgent session or commission of inquiry into gross abuses by China, Cuba, Russia, Turkey, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and the list goes on. Only a few tyrannies are condemned. Even then, though Roth points to the council’s investigation of Syria, one of its commissioners quit in frustration after six years, saying, “We have not achieved anything for justice or the victims in Syria.”

Roth takes umbrage that Haley accused his group of siding with Moscow or Beijing, implying this would be absurd. But he omits the specific charge in Haley’s letter: that the only ones to have written against the U.S. reform proposal were Russia, China and Roth’s organization and a few others.

The sad fact is that HRW and Amnesty repeatedly side with Russia and China. At every council session, when these and other dictatorships scapegoat Israel under a discriminatory agenda item — in which the world’s democracies refuse to participate — HRW and Amnesty join the jackals. When an international coalition of NGOs called in 2005 for the council to apply equal treatment, Roth refused to sign.

Moreover, HRW is a key supporter of the council’s Palestinian-sponsored investigations of the Jewish state, which seek to deny Israelis the right to self-defense against Hamas terrorism. Even HRW founder Robert L. Bernstein denounced the organization’s loss of critical perspective on the Middle East, and quit.

Roth insists he only opposed Haley’s method, fearing it would open a Pandora’s Box, but that he truly supports reform. Yet given the group’s complicity with some of the council’s worst pathologies, and his relentless trumpeting of its “significant contributions to human rights,” Roth seems all too content with things as they are.

Hillel Neuer is the executive director of UN Watch. He recently was awarded a Doctorate of Laws, Honoris Causa, from McGill University for his human rights work.