I was a few hours late today to the story about the United States pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council. But by the time I got to the party, there was a veritable shit storm of media coverage. You have the usual suspects like Fox News spewing that it’s the right choice because… Israel… and because there are human rights violators on the council. On that latter point, good ol’ boy Brett is not wrong. Although what Brett Schaefer neglected to mention is that we are one of the worst human rights violators allowed to tarnish that council with our membership. To the former point of Israel, pretty much all US media is on board with that fallacy.
US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, used this tired anti-Israel drivel as her reason for leaving the council, playing “chronic anti-Israel bias” as her literal Trump card for a purely theatrical, albeit dick move. In a painfully ironic statement, Haley accused the UNHRC of being “hypocritical and self-serving,” and making “a mockery of human rights.” Meanwhile, two weeks ago, the UN human rights office called on the Trump administration to “immediately halt this practice of separating families” at the border, saying that it violates international law and the rights of the child. Too bad for the UN that we care for neither international law nor the rights of the child. Incidentally, we’re the only UN member that hasn’t ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But hey, who’s keeping track? Obviously not the people or the media outlets that I saw clambering to throw verbal feces at one another.
The problem with the reactionary horror when news like this breaks is that it’s totally misplaced and vehemently hypocritical. First of all, the UNHRC only came into existence in 2006, at which point President Bush refused to join. In 2009, President Obama joined the council in another example of political theater – albeit smarter and smoother than anything the current administration is capable of. But lest we forget, Obama was the deporter-in-chief. In 2016 alone, the US dropped more than 26,000 bombs – or roughly three bombs every hour, 24 hours a day. In 2015, Obama became the second Nobel Peace Prize winner to bomb another Peace Prize Winner – a Doctors Without Borders Hospital (Sadly for Obama, Kissinger beat him to it – and yes, Kissinger does have a Peace Prize). Here at home, Cornel West pointedly called Obama out for being “another black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs” – and for good reason. Under Obama, Wall Street was not only exonerated for their crimes in the 2008 collapse, they were rewarded – with deregulation and oligarch-friendly legislation. Thanks in no small part to Obama, the US looks more like a third world nation than what it is: the richest nation in the world.
So even if we put the foreign human rights violations aside for a moment, when almost half of your population can’t afford basics like rent and food, you simply can’t claim to give a shit about human rights. But he did. And we still do. And this is not an Obama vs. Trump moment so please put away your faded hope and change. This is about the collective amnesia of our long history of human rights violations. It’s about the hypocrisy of pedestaling Obama while trashing Trump – when the tools Trump is using to destroy families and futures were in a toolbox Obama both used and fortified. It’s about the idiocy of symbolism, of expecting an entity such as the UNHRC to have any effect on the US empire’s human rights violations – whether we’re on the council or not.
Put simply, being a part of the UNHRC never came with a requisite of actually caring about human rights. If it did, countries like Australia, with their appalling treatment of refugees, wouldn’t be on the council. But they are. Saudi Arabia, the UK and Egypt are a few other examples of human rights violators who get a comfy chair and a human rights plaque with their name on it. Therefore, instead of crying “why, why?” at the decision to leave the UNHRC, the real question is: why were we ever allowed to be a part of it in the first place? Why were any human rights violators allowed to be a part of it? Why are we so concerned with the political theater surrounding an organization whose strongest show of power to date amounts to wagging a limp finger at Israel? Indeed, to say that they’re anti-Israel would be too generous. They’re critical of Israel. And while it’s good that an international entity is speaking out against the Israeli apartheid state, we should be really careful to not give them too much credit. After all, if they were so mighty, why has Israel just wrapped one of its deadliest attacks against Palestinians in recent history? Why is the Trump administration still ripping families apart? C’mon UNHRC – US media thinks you’ve got the power!
The media frenzy around today’s withdrawal decision legitimizes a council that has no international legitimacy, no pull. We need to push aside the loony-tune whirlwind and see that what’s really happening is that yet another facade is being torn down. It made us feel good to be a part of something marked “human rights” in the same way that it made people feel good to be a part of the women’s march. But our short stint on the UNHRC was as symbolic as a pussy hat. It was marked by a rise in war crimes abroad and human rights violations here at home – from Standing Rock to Ferguson to every Main Street in everytown, USA.
The horrors were always there. Now, they’re being laid bare, and they will continue, if not multiply. We don’t need more pussy hat councils or feel-good memberships. We don’t need anything more symbolic. We need actual action on human rights issues.
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