TCS Daily

Canvassing Human Rights Around the World

By Tim Worstall - May 11, 2004 12:00 AM

So you saw that Sudan has retained that country's place on the United Nations Human Rights Commission, even as it conducts a genocidal campaign against the inhabitants of its own Darfur region? Your jaw dropped and once you had stopped catching flies and scraped the errant mandible up off the floor, a righteous anger began to build, right? You wanted to know how this could happen, how can the fox be set to guard the henhouse in such a fashion?

I have one question for you.


Why are you surprised?

You are by definition a well informed and intelligent person, that you are here at this site is enough evidence of that. So you should already know. You should already be aware of how the UN works, how this ineffable contribution to world affairs conducts itself. You have read about how "Oil for Food " became " Oil for Fraud ," you are aware of Kofi Annan's either refusal or inability to do anything in Rwanda, of Srebrenica, of the vigilance and courage with which the organisation upheld the rights of those in the Gulag or the Killing Fields, how the Ukraine and Belarus were founding members as independent states back in 1945 Soviet Union notwithstanding.

Leave aside that Sudan, one of the last homes of the slave trade is a member of the Commission. You will already know this list of the 2004 members. China, a Communist dictatorship is there (never mind that the one democratic part of China, Taiwan, is not even allowed to be a member of the UN at all ), as is Congo, a place where it is hard to discern a government able to uphold any rights at all, and so is that feudal monarchy, Saudi Arabia, a state so concerned with human rights that Jews are not allowed to enter. Comrade Bob's Zimbabwe, a state that actively slaughters a racial minority (No, not the white farmers, but the Ndebele, against whom he once sent the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade.) and induces starvation is considered worthy of pontificating on human rights.

Let us not forget Fidel's socialist island paradise either, a place so brimming with freedoms and liberties that people attempt to leave with little but a plank strapped to their back.

Your broad knowledge of the world will also in the past have led you to Freedom House and their ratings of how free each country actually is, and you will already have appreciated the irony with which they take the governments of the world at their word. For they use the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the basis for their measurements.

Yes, that's right, that same UN document, the one that the UN Commission on Human Rights is there to uphold and administer, the very reason for being of that august body.

Given that you already know these things, it is perhaps redundant for me to point out a further matter.

Checking one list against the other, we find that of the 53 members of the Commission in 2004, 14 of them were not free by the very standards that it itself defines. A further 16 were only partially free. Yes indeedy, a majority of those who oversee that Universal Declaration, more than 50% of those who talk, debate, pass resolutions and issue statements about basic human rights fail the very test that they themselves are supposed to be upholding.

Knowing all of this of course you are not surprised that the Sudan is a member, a country whose Muslim rulers have been slaving, slaughtering and attempting genocide amongst the southern Christian and Animist minority for decades, not even mildly shocked when it is welcomed back into such company for another term.

This is not something unusual, something out of the ordinary. This is the United Nations and it is just another day at the office, the regular round of the water cooler, the coffee machine and making the world safe for human rights without compromising the inalienable sovereignty of the nation state.

As I say, you already know all of this, none of this surprises you or me at all. So let me add just one more point. In 2001 the United States provided 22% of the budget for the United Nations, and the United Kingdom a further 5.5 %. Yes, it really is this for which we pay our taxes.

Tim Worstall is a writer living in Europe. His online home is He recently wrote for TCS about Throwing Tomatoes.


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