Now that John Bolton’s not there constantly reminding the UN how dysfunctional it is, it can be easy to forget, so here’s an end-of-year refresher in the form of the top 10 UN-believable moments of 2010.
Coming in at No. 10 is the resolution to “combat defamation of religions” only because the UN General Assembly hasn’t technically messed this up yet by voting for it, but it’s likely to, as it has since 2005 when the Danish cartoon controversy first scared the world into discouraging free speech in the name of one-sided tolerance. The resolution is likely to pass by a thinner margin this year than before, but it is still likely to pass. Only 20 of the Human Rights Council’s 47 countries backed the resolution, but supporters still constituted a plurality.
Backed by the 56-country Organization of the Islamic Conference, the secretary-general of the group describes the resolution’s intent thusly:
“We insist that freedom of expression should not be abused to insult others or condescend on other cultures,” said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. “This is the bottom line and we insist on this: dignity and honour are human rights. Every country has certain values that it considers sacred values. It can be their king, queen or flag that are the red lines. For us 1.5 billion people, our Prophet is a red line, and we ask others to respect that.”
The OIC features countries such as Pakistan and Iran that have their own problems respecting minority religions, but the resolution never mentions laws in Muslim countries that prevent or punish the practice of Christianity or Judaism. In this chart from a 2009 Pew study of international religious liberty, many supporters of the resolution are in the “restrictive” and “hostile” quadrant of the chart, while its detractors are considered hospitable to religious practice.
What could go wrong?
At No. 9, we have an anti-Semitic classic — good old-fashioned blood libel in a session of the Human Rights Council as a Syrian representative relates a charming story of Israeli children singing “merrily, as they go to school, ‘With my teeth, I will rip your flesh. With my mouth I will suck your blood.'”
The U.S. government had a representative at this meeting who said nothing.
At No. 8, we have cheers for Hezbollah when Israel objects to Lebanon referring to it as a “Zionist entity on Palestinian territory.” Israel’s representative in the Human Rights Council calls the language “inappropriate and abusive,” and points to the existence of Hezbollah on the Lebanon/Israel border. The head of the Human Rights Council then allows Lebanon’s representative to interrupt saying, “If there was no occupation there would be no resistance, and the resistance of peoples against foreign occupation is a legitimate right.” The body erupts in applause.
No. 7: Have you ever wondered what it might look like if the U.S. subjected itself to a peer review of its human rights record by the world’s leading violators of human rights? The UN’s got you covered, and the Obama administration is honored to be there for it.
The Human Rights Council, which is now only 40 percent democratic, created a process in 2006 by which all members submit a report on their human rights records to the review of the council every four years. This year, Obama administration representatives Esther Brimmer and Michael Posner listened as Iran, North Korea, Egypt and China, among others, lectured the United States on its human rights record and history of racial discrimination.
WATCH: Mary Katharine Ham Presents: The top 10 UN-believable moments (VIDEO)
And at No. 6, let’s see how the august Human Rights Council deals with Iran’s periodic review:
Pakistan: “We take note… of laws protecting human rights of Iranian citizens. An elaborate judicial system, including the High Council on Human Rights and the proposed National Human Rights Institution are important pillars of the Iranian human-rights system.”
Lebanon: “We have noted the efforts of the Islamic Republic of Iran to promote the socio-economic and political rights of women.”
Cuba: “The creation of cultural and sports opportunities and centers in the country over the last four years has also had important repercussions.”
No. 5: When it was announced that Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo would get the Nobel Peace Prize, China moved quickly to bestow its own peace prize. A private charity started by a Chinese businessman gave the World Harmony Award to Gen. Chi Haotian, who was in charge of the troops who opened fire on unarmed civilians in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
And, guess who was there to give him the prize? Top UN official Sha Zukang, head of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. There is some confusion at the UN as to whether Sha was freelancing or acting in his capacity as a UN official.
No. 4: The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.
No. 3 is more funny than outrageous, but it did result in one of the more ridiculous UN press conferences of all time, and that’s a high bar. A bed-bug infestation at the New York headquarters of the UN prompted UN staff and reporters to grill UN spokesman Martin Nesirky about what the UN was doing to prevent the spread of the insects. Nesirky, clearly itching to get off the subject, explained the UN’s use of bed-bug sniffing dogs to sweep buildings and got into an argument with a reporter about a previous infestation at the UN.
“I have to correct you on that,” Nesirky said. “They were not bed bugs; they were clover mites. They don’t bite.”
No. 2 and No. 1 are related, both occurring in Geneva on Human Rights Day, which also happened to be the day the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony was happening in Norway.
Nobel officials remarked upon the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo’s absence from the Nobel ceremony, as he is locked away by the Chinese government. His wife and family are also not allowed to leave China, so no one was there to accept the prize. But guess who else wasn’t there? The UN chief of human rights, Navi Pillay, who said she had an event to preside over in Geneva.
While she attended a rather modest-looking event in Geneva, the Geneva offices of the UN hosted a large photo exhibit extolling China’s open society and its kindness to minorities.
So, the chief of human rights for the entire UN skipped the Nobel ceremony for a ceremony in Geneva, where the UN was simultaneously honoring the human rights record of China. Meanwhile, the Chinese government made the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize impossible for the first time since 1936 by locking its dissidents away.
And, that my friends, is the UN. Bed bugs are the least of their worries.