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November 25, 2004

UN Body Rejects Censure, Threatens Revolt

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - The 191-member UN General Assembly, the largely ignored policymaking body of the United Nations, is threatening to derail a slew of mostly Western European and U.S.-inspired resolutions condemning human rights violations.

A key committee of the assembly, which previously refused to take action on resolutions against Belarus and Sudan, took a similar stance Wednesday on another draft resolution, this time on human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, signaling what some observers call a backlash against U.S. abuse of the world body and international law.

The three rejections will be routinely ratified next week by the General Assembly, which represents the views of the overwhelming majority of the member states.

On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador John Danforth lashed out at UN member states, and challenged "the utility of the General Assembly."

"One wonders if there can't be a clear and direct statement on matters of basic principle, why have this building? And what is it all about?" he asked.

The answer came both from UN diplomats and U.S. academics, who are blaming the United States for what appears to be a growing revolt at the United Nations on human rights issues.

The resolution against Sudan, co-sponsored by the 25-member European Union (EU) and the United States, got only 74 votes compared with 91 votes against.

The draft resolution expressed "grave concern" at some of the continued atrocities in the country's western Darfur region, "including forced displacement and arbitrary executions, forced disappearances, torture, and other degrading punishment."

The United Nations estimates that 70,000 ethnic African villagers in the area have been killed by Arab militias known as "janjaweed" (men on horseback). It says 1.5 million locals have fled the violence, some to neighboring Chad.

The resolution called upon the government of Sudan as well as other parties to the conflict to stop the atrocities and cooperate fully with the Mission of the African Union and the Mission of the UN Special Representative for Sudan.

Speaking on behalf of the African Group, the representative of South Africa told delegates Wednesday: "Our vote is not an attempt to condone human rights violations. It is a vote to counter the double standards [on human rights] by the European Union."

According to Naseer H. Aruri, chancellor professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, "The United States, it seems, is paying a heavy price for its contemptuous treatment of the United Nations and for its own transgressions of civil liberties, at home and abroad."

The rejection of three resolutions condemning human rights violations in Sudan, Belarus, and Zimbabwe "could be the start of a new global challenge to the self-designated U.S. role of chief arbiter and human rights monitor," Aruri told IPS.

Although the General Assembly really represents the will of all 191 member states, the 15-member Security Council has been increasingly taking on the role of final arbiter on issues ranging from war and peace to child soldiers and sexual violence against women.

For example, on Monday the United States voted against a resolution condemning mercenaries on the ground that the issue should be within the purview of the Security Council, not a committee of the assembly.

But resentment has been growing against this trend because all major decisions at the United Nations are now taken by the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia, marginalizing the General Assembly.

Danforth told reporters Tuesday the assembly "is not prepared to speak strongly, not prepared to speak with the same voice that the Security Council had spoken with," particularly in respect to Sudan.

"And the message from the General Assembly is very simple: 'You may be suffering [in Darfur], but we can't be bothered,"' he added.

But to Aruri, author of Dishonest Broker: The U.S. Role in Israel and Palestine, "The action by the General Assembly committee highlights a political-cultural divide in a world split between those who insist on the application of the rule of law, peaceful resolution of international disputes, and the universality of human rights, on one hand, and those who practice unilateralism, preventive wars, and selective standards of human rights, on the other."

"Claims of divine inspiration, reinforced by expansionist designs and driven by an outdated moral mission, are no longer accepted by a broad segment of a divided world that has grown tired of global autocracy and a reincarnation of old-fashioned imperialism," he added.

Francis A. Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law, told IPS, "Finally, the member states of the UN General Assembly are taking a stand against the administration of [U.S. President George W.] Bush and its wanton aggression, war crimes, and gross human rights violations all over the world, including here in the United States where they are trying to establish a police state".

The UN General Assembly must now invoke its own "Uniting for Peace Resolution" – which superseded Security Council action on the crisis in South Korea in 1950 – against the Bush administration and proceed to sanction it for its international legal nihilism, said Boyle, author of Destroying World Order.

"Otherwise, the United Nations will go the same way the League of Nations did in the late 1930s, when it failed to act against [dictators such as] Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, and Stalin," he added.

But Yvonne Terlingen of rights group Amnesty International said her organization is "extremely concerned" that a key committee of the General Assembly should have determined that a human rights situation as grave as that in Sudan "is not worthy of its consideration."

"As a global body, the General Assembly must at the very least express its condemnation of human rights abuses committed by all sides to the conflict and make recommendations to stop these abuses," she added.

(Inter Press Service)

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    Thalif Deen has been Inter Press Service's U.N. Bureau Chief since 1992. A
    former Information Officer at the U.N. Secretariat and a one-time member of
    the Sri Lanka delegation to the General Assembly sessions, he is currently
    editor of the Journal of the Group of 77, published in collaboration with
    IPS. A Fulbright-Hayes scholar, he holds a Master's degree in Journalism
    from Columbia University in New York.

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