Human Rights · Riding A Dead Horse

The Needle on the Human Rights Record is stuck and studies prove that only Wonder Woman is strong enough to lift it…Where are the superheroes when we need them? (or the Eighth and Ninth Reports on the 61st UN Commission on Human Rights, March 23-24)

No one can listen to a record when it’s stuck or a CD when it’s skipping. This is one of those simple facts of life that not even the best lawyer could dispute. Well, maybe if the best lawyer were paid enough he would dispute anything, but that’s another issue entirely. All of us have experienced broken records in our lives, people who say the same thing over and over to us to the point where we no longer listen or the very sound of that person’s voice in fact prevents us from hearing. Many times, it would serve our best interest to listen, but no one likes to be told what to do and no one works well under this kind of pressure. And more so when someone takes a paternalistic and patronizing tone, like we should know better and we are simply stupid for not listening to the simpering ‘for your own good’ tone.

This was the skin-crawling situation in the Commission during the 23rd and 24th of March, during the continued discussion on Item 8, Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine as well as Item 9, Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world. During Item 8, there were two stuck records playing simultaneously. The first were the Defense statements made by Israel, the USA and Australia with regards to the violent Israel occupation of the Arab territories. The second was condemnation and critique of the Israeli occupation by every other country that spoke, with the one exception of Luxembourg on behalf of the EU who criticized the violence on both sides and gave a very insipid 15 minute intervention. And that’s all that I have or want to say about this.

When Item 9 was opened, the tension in the room became a bit more explosive. Many people criticize this agenda Item as in the history of the Commission, it has been used by wealthy nations to condemn, criticize and patronize poor nations through country-specific resolutions and asinine denunciatory statements, hypocritical in the light of horrific violations within these wealthy nations. Now, this is not to say that there were not human rights violations in these developing nations, and certainly there were (and are). But, it is also certain that the nations which took the morally high position many times were (and are) guilty of the same and sometimes worse violations, but they never have the honour of a resolution passed against them. Many times, there is rarely even a mention of their human rights violations at all. This agenda Item is known for its Name and Shame approach, which is racist, classist and wholly inappropriate to the furthering of human rights protection in the world.

There is a Special Rapporteur under this agenda Item who examines the situation of human rights violations in Cuba, but I boycotted her presentation as well as the interactive dialogue. It is evident to everyone that the presence of a Special Rapporteur against Cuba is a highly politicized activity, and I personally have a lot of admiration for Cuba and their leader because they refuse to kowtow to the USA. I will not participate in any exercise against the only government with any courage in the United Nations or the world who speaks the truth to power. I do understand Cuba has some issues still to work out with human rights, but every nation does. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur will not be received by the Cuban government, and rightly so, therefore she gets all of her information from Miami Cubans (many of whom are hired by the USA government, so I have heard, to speak against Fidel Castro and Cuba). This reminds me of the American Anthropologist Ruth Benedict (as an Anthropologist myself, I apologize for this, truly) hired by the USA government to ‘study’ Japanese during World War II, but not by going to Japan: she worked in the American internment camps to write her ethnography about Japanese culture! This is highly criticized in Anthropology, and I am sure in other fields as well, and for a progressive feminist and disruptive post-colonial Anthropologist such as myself, I hold her in the highest contempt, much as I do the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights violations in Cuba, She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

When I returned to Room 17 after this presentation was complete, the broken records were back. But this time instead of just two, there were a hundred and all playing at the same time. You can imagine the horror of this chilling noise. After a time, you begin to feel that you will lose your mind, that it is not so clear anymore where is the ground or the sky, or if it is air you are breathing or the accumulated fog of hatred in the room. The heart goes numb and the room is full of tormented spirits, begging those who murdered them to do the right thing. It is fair to say that most every country in the world has a word or two or a million spoken against them, and these days even against nations of power. Many third world nations even mentioned the situation of indigenous peoples in North America as well as the status of Chinese-occupied Tibet, something I have never heard in the three years I have been attending the Commission.

The Tibetan mention is especially interesting these days because His Holiness the Dalai Lama has made a statement conceding that Tibet is a part of the People’s Republic of China. People are quite mystified by this declaration, and it is not entirely clear what his motivation is in making it. I would think that he just wants the torture and killing to end, and most likely it will at least allow the Buddhist monks and nuns to be released from prison, even though they will still have to leave their homeland in order to truly practice Buddhism. It could be so that China will release the kidnapped Panchen Lama, the child who will recognize the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation after his death and who was abducted by the Chinese government a few years back. It may also be that His Holiness would like to see his homeland once more before he passes into the Spirit Realm as he has been very ill these last few months. Or a combination of these above reasons. I was partly relieved to hear about it because I would pray that the monks and nuns being tortured and raped, with their training in compassion and love being pushed to the limit each day, would have reprieve from this ill-deserved treatment and would be able to enjoy days in their life without such extreme pain and suffering. I was also saddened to hear it because unreasonable might does not equal right and now China has ‘proof’ of their evil and unfounded claim to Tibet. I will never forget a quote from one of His Holiness’ books which said that the most frightening moment for a revered Tibetan monk in a Chinese prison was not the days on end of brutal torture, but the fear that he would lose compassion for his captors and torturers. Can you imagine? I think about that quote a lot when I am in the Commission and pray to be so compassionate and loving.

Discussions on Item 9 went on for a day and a half much to my brain overload and disintegrating patience with the stuck records of Attack-Defend, Attack-Defend, or Attack-Avoid, etc. Also, because the Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Wibisono, is rigidly (and sometimes rudely) punctual and quick with his beloved gavel at the end of a speaking limit, we are a whole day ahead of time. This is quite unheard of and much to the dismay of many NGO delegates who missed their speaking time because the Commission was moving so quickly through the interventions. Plus, this weekend we have a long weekend with Easter holidays, and many NGOs would be arriving this weekend to speak on Item 9 this upcoming Tuesday, but sadly Item 9 was closed on the morning of Thursday the 24th.

The 24th afternoon session was a confidential 1503 procedure associated with Item 9 in which the human rights situation of a selected country is brought before the Commission behind close doors. It is not usually published who is called before this 1503 procedure, and only Member States of the Commission are present. I should be able to find out in the next week which country it was, but none of the findings of the Commission in regards to this procedure are published for general circulation. This procedure is meant to be a closed forum so that the Commission can address a grave human rights situation without politics, media and public opinion getting involved and muddying the waters. Openness and transparency, right?

Thanks for reading and have a very happy Easter or a fabulous long weekend if you don’t celebrate!

In honour of Tony Black Feather,



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