The next time a liberal asks why conservatives don't respect the United Nations, National Review advised its conservative readers last year, “you could tell them this: North Korea is chairing the Conference on Disarmament. If that's not good enough, you could add this: Iran is a member of the Commission on the Status of Women. That should answer their question.”
The U.N. certainly provides plenty of fodder for its critics to condemn or ridicule.
As Australia's nationwide newspaper, The Australian, asked in a headline: “Is the UN Stark Raving Mad?” The paper condemned North Korea's chairmanship of the disarmament conference as “a case of lunatics taking over the asylum. The wacky regime that constantly violates the U.N.'s nuclear controls, is the target of U.N. sanctions, and is the leading proliferator of nuclear technology to Iran and Syria is now putatively in charge of the organization responsible for negotiating multilateral arms control agreements.”
Under the headline “The depraved United Nations,” Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler complained of Iran's election as a General Assembly vice president and charged that the U.N. had been captured by “dictatorships and tyrannies” and “transformed into a platform for promoting genocide.”
Human rights activists also expressed disbelief in 2010, when Iran was elected to the 45-member U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and Saudi Arabia to another agency — U.N. Women — charged with promoting women's rights. Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian woman who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigns for women's rights, said it was “a joke” for countries that oppress women to be placed on such panels. Iranian laws discriminate against women in divorce cases and require testimony from two women to equal testimony of one man in court, she said, and the women's rights situation in Saudi Arabia “is even worse.”
Iranian human rights advocate Shirin Ebadi, who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigns for women's rights, said it was “a joke” for countries that oppress women to be placed on key U.N. human rights panels. (AFP/Getty Images/John Thys)
Saudi Arabia forbids women to drive, restricts their use of public facilities when men are present and requires them to get permission from male relatives to participate in many activities. The monarchy recently announced that women would be allowed to vote in 2015. According to Human Rights Watch, Iran restricts what women can study in college and requires a male guardian's permission to marry.
Equally jaw-dropping: Syria was appointed to two human-rights-related committees of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) even as the Syrian government was killing protesters in its own country. Astonishingly, UNESCO's Arab members selected Syria for the posts in November, shortly before the country was suspended from the Arab League because of its violent attacks on demonstrators. Other countries quickly launched a campaign to expel Syria from the panels.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chair of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Syria's appointments a “stunning display” of “irresponsible and dangerous behavior” and “an affront to those suffering at the hand of tyrants all around the world.”
Possibly the greatest outrage and ridicule have been generated by the activities of Princeton Law Professor Richard Falk, the U.N.'s special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories. Falk is accused of anti-Semitism and has suggested that the Bush administration may have been complicit in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He wrote the foreword to The New Pearl Harbor, by David Ray Griffin, a retired American professor of the philosophy of religion and theology who suggests that the World Trade Center towers were destroyed by “controlled demolition” rather than by hijacked airplanes. Falk himself has written about a “large and growing grassroots constituency” that believes the truth about 9/11 “is not yet known, or … is known but being actively suppressed.”
And last year Falk caused controversy when he posted a cartoon on his blog depicting a dog — wearing a sweater labeled “USA” and a yarmulke with a Star of David — chewing a bloody skeleton and urinating on Lady Justice.
While acknowledging that many of these appointments are outrageous, U.N. supporters downplay their significance. Some positions rotate, so North Korea — for instance — simply got its turn to chair the disarmament conference for a brief time. Iran and Saudi Arabia can be outvoted on the women's panels, supporters note, and other U.N. bodies are more important.
More significant, they point out, the United States, U.K. and France hold three of the five permanent seats on the organization's most powerful body — the Security Council — where any one of them can block a Security Council action with a veto.
— Tom Price