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    david barrett - the first 13
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PostTue Jun 20, 2006 4:02 am     Here we go again - a flawed UN    

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by Benny Avni

Even before it starts deliberating today in Geneva, the Human Rights Council is flawed in the way it treats Israel. If it doesn't correct its flaws, the United Nations's newest body is bound to fail.

The Turtle Bay debate earlier this year on how to fix the much-discredited Commission on Human Rights concentrated on how to prevent flagrant rights violators from gaining membership in the new council. But membership was only one aspect of the failures. As it passed the usual litany of automatically accepted anti-Israel resolutions during its final session earlier this year, the council was unable to coalesce on even one resolution regarding the Darfur genocide.

"No country can claim to have a perfect human rights record," Secretary-General Annan told me during a press conference last week. He said he hopes the new council will avoid focusing on Israel and "not on others."

The much-publicized debate on its culpability in the recent killing of a family on a Gaza beach places Israel back in the front row of the world's human rights agenda. Mr. Annan might have added fuel to the fire last week when he prejudged one Israeli version of the events as "odd." The secretary-general now admits he had based his determination solely on press reports. "We should all hold our horses until the Israeli government puts out a definitive report," he told me.

Cries for an independent outside investigation into the Gaza event have intensified despite the United Nations's belated call for patience. In Geneva, where Mr. Annan arrives today, the Gaza beach debate gives ammunition to those on the new council who demand to revive its predecessor's fixation on Israel by setting "the question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine," apart from human rights issues anywhere else in the world.

As the only U.N. member state barred from participation in any Geneva deliberations, Israel is by definition less than equal when it comes to setting the agenda of the Human Rights Council. Also, the new 47-member council is composed of regional groups that give an automatic majority to a bloc of 26 Asian and African countries, 16 of which belong to the Organization of Islamic States.

There is also no guarantee that the Western European bloc, which now commands only eight council seats, will forcefully stand in the way of singling out Israel. One member, Switzerland, just nominated its countryman Jean Ziegler <http> to serve in a prominent role on the council. As the commission's rapporteur on the right of food, Mr. Ziegler <http> was so obsessed with real and imaginary Israeli (and American) violations of human rights that he had to be censured by Mr. Annan.

This week a very credible Geneva-based human rights organization, U.N. Watch, will publish a report documenting how Mr. Ziegler helped to establish in 1989 a $10 million fund to set up the "Moammar Khaddafi Prize for Human Rights" - Tripoli's attempt to balance out the Nobel Prize. Mr. Ziegler kept advising the Libyan prize's board, and then in 2002 he was one of 13 "intellectuals" - along with a convicted French holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy - who were awarded the Khaddafi Prize for their "thought and creativity."

Mr. Ziegler later announced - in Tripoli, no less - that he had turned down his share of the prize, amounting to $75,000. He also denied helping to establish the fund. The evidence presented by U.N. Watch is compelling, however.

Mr. Ziegler helped Libya in using the prize "as a propaganda tool; as a method for funding sympathetic NGOs; as a means to celebrate prominent anti-Americans and to highlight issues meant to embarrass the United States; as a means to celebrate prominent anti-Semites; and as a way to provide moral support for those who participate in the Palestinian intifada," U.N. Watch's director, Hillel Neuer, writes in the report.

The shiny new Human Rights Council has inherited the obsession with Israel from its tarnished predecessor via such advocates who use human rights as a tool to advance a radical agenda. The political realities in all-encompassing world bodies dictate that such agenda will always win: only a half of the new Human Rights Council members are considered "free" by Freedom House.

Plenty of sympathetic advocates in America and Israel promote the rights of real and perceived victims in Guantanamo and Gaza. In lieu of a credible and unbiased international human rights body, to whom should victims in Darfur, Zimbabwe, North Korea, or Tibet turn?



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