Straight Talk
LORNE GUNTER - Premature party

Minister of Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, September 28, 2012.



Monday at the United Nations' offices in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates threw a party. The occasion? A largely clean bill of health the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) gave the Persian Gulf state for its commitment to human rights.

Lavish tables of canapés were presented and more than 90 countries toasted the UAE with fine wines and champagne.

That's remarkable because most of the major human-rights watchdog groups ­- such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International - report the UAE has a long way to go before it can be considered a free and fair country.

Progress has been made in recent years towards protecting the legal rights of non-citizens and tourists who make up about 80% of the emirate's population. But there is no democratic government in the UAE. Freedom of expression, of the press and of assembly are restricted. Citizens who criticize the government have been arrested and beaten and the country has not signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention against Torture, to name a few.

So why did the UN laud the UAE? Because countries are allowed to conduct their own reviews about the degree to which they comply with UN human rights standard. So the UAE could claim to be doing a bang-up job.

Moreover, the UNHRC is made up of lots of abusive states who cover for one another. That means the UAE could produce a glowing report knowing full well that most of the countries on the rights council have skeletons of their own to hide and, therefore, were not going to demand closer scrutiny.

Contrast that with the UNHRC's actions the very next day.

Tuesday, the council condemned Israel for not filling out its own self-assessment. Several states speculated this was probably because Israel was hiding state-sanctioned torture of its government's "opponents" (read "terrorists" who the council calls freedom fighters).

Of course, this was a fairy tale bordering on a conspiracy theory.

The truth is that in 2012, Israel decided to sever all ties with the UNHRC, so it is no longer bound to submit periodic reports. But the Jewish state's many enemies at the UN are never ones to miss a chance to disparage Israel for imaginary crimes. Indeed, every year when the 47 member countries on the UNHRC convene their annual session, one of the first orders of business is always to single out Israel for criticism and hatred.

Israel is the only such country to receive the UN's wrath year in and year out - not Iran or Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Syria or any of the dozens of other dictatorships around the globe that repress and abuse their people are treated that way.

Three years ago, the UN appointed both Iran and Saudi Arabia to its committee on the status of women, even though women in Iran are occasionally stoned to death for having affairs, while women in Saudi Arabia cannot vote, hold drivers' licences or appear outside their homes unless escorted by a male relative.

When Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2010, he was unable to attend to claim it because he was in prison in northern China for complaining about the state of human rights in his country. Did the UNHRC sanction China? Don't be ridiculous.

While Moammar Gadhafi was imprisoning, torturing and killing his opponents to stay in power in Libya, his country chaired the UN human rights apparatus.

Does Israel have a spotless human rights record? No. But its commitment to rights and the rule of law trumps that of most members of the UNHRC.


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