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UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies Reforms: From Shuffling the Cards to Performing Global Constitutionalism

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The October-November 2017 are the delineating and defining months that present a constitutional moment in the pilgrimage of human rights when some human rights bodies of global and regional visage will sit in judgement at Geneva in Switzerland to assess the degree of States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the States’ reports, civil society groups’ submissions, country visits, stakeholders’ hearings, webinars, individual representations and conference presentations.

Five UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies (HRTBs) are going to have their meetings throughout October 2017 to have stock-check of States’ observance with their HRTBs mandate on ICCPR-1966, ICESCR-1966, CEDAW-1979, CAT-1984, and CRC-1989. UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and its Social Forum will be in session and UNHRC will organize Seminars, Working Group Discussions and Thematic Panel Discussions on international human rights issues like refugees, migrants, displaced persons, climate change, transnational corporations, prevention of torture, custodial violence, fair trial guarantee, and gender justice and rights. At the regional level, the European Committee on Social Rights (ECSR), European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) and Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will have their sessions too.

There are numerous bodies established under the UN Charter for promoting and monitoring compliance with international human rights, namely; the UN Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Security Council (UNSC), the General Assembly (UNGA), the Secretariat (and the Secretary-General), and the International Court of Justice. Of these, the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are the most active in enforcing and monitoring compliance with international human rights. UN System is a Charter-based bodies system that seeks to uphold international human rights in general; while UN  Human rights Treaty Bodies (HRTBs) address compliance with human rights in the particular human rights treaty under which they were established. Primarily, the UN human rights system is composed of two kinds of bodies; (a) Charter-based Bodies that includes the Human Rights Council and its subsidiary mechanisms and thematic mandate holder (e.g., the Human Rights Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People and Human Rights. However, Treaty Bodies – created under the international human rights treaties and made up of independent experts that have the mandate to monitor States parties’ compliance with their treaty obligations.

Therefore, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Treaty Bodies (HRTBs) are the substratum of global human rights framework whereunder the human rights commitments, and convictions of the national governments are accounted for implementation. The HRTBs system is a synthesis of ideality and reality based on dreams and desires of humanity and ideals and practical realization of fundamental purposes and core principles of the UN Charter. The HRTB system is an unprecedented attainment of the common good in the history of global gratification for human rights beyond the multitude of geopolitical structures in all the countries. The system of HRTBs stands at the heart of the international protection framework for human rights that translate the global standards, universal norms, and democracy of judicial remedies into affirmative action, the primacy of individual development, communitarian and collective welfare of the humanity. The HRTBs mechanism is a budding and promising contrivance that provides authoritative roadmap on human rights standards, makes recommendations how human rights treaties are invoked and applied in specific cases, and apprises the High Contracting parties of what they must do to make sure that all people are free and equal and enjoy the full realization of human rights.

But, there is a pivotal question as to what extent these HRTBs have been pragmatic in accomplishing the global vision of a world wedded with human rights from textual literalism to transformative functionalism that remains to be seen? Therefore, the UN Member-States (UNMS) contemplated and concluded a State-Led Reform Process (SLRP) to strengthen and enhance the effective functioning of the HRTBs system by adopting the Resolution 68/268 in the UN General Assembly on 9 April 2014. Thus, the SLRP is armed with the architecture of ten Expert Committees entrusted with the responsibility to monitor the enforcement of the obligations in the UNMS enunciated under the core human rights treaties with the additional protocols thereto. Primarily, the SLRP process has started by the states to appreciate the objections to fundamental countenances of the HRTBs’ work to surpass the current reform endeavours initiated by the UNHCHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights). Despite the fact that HRTBs reform process ill-starred but its Final Resolution mostly sidesteps the adverse corollaries for their autonomy and independence and makes significant changes that are bound to affect their work in the long run. Nevertheless, there is a need to do a lot to enhance the efficacy of HRTBs in protecting, promoting, and preserving the human rights for all.

HRTBs: Realizations and Contestations

The HRTBs is an integral constituent of international human rights system that ensures the protection by doing an independent and impartial assessment of compliance and enforcement thresholds of human rights obligations on the part of high contracting parties. The HRTBs personnel contacts, coordinate, and conduct negotiations with plenipotentiaries of the high contracting states during Public Review of Periodic Reports of the states regarding implementation of the international human rights treaties in their respective jurisdictions. They also make public and publish all conclusions and recommendations based on the progress achieved by the countries in their human rights obligations. They come to decisions on individual and collective cases of human rights alleged violations, monitor the human rights and offer general comments interpreting the scope of the human rights commitments. The HRTBs outcomes are important to national governments, HRDs (Human Rights Defenders), NHRIs (National Human Rights Institutions), and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) who provide and share the information to HRTBs and cite their conclusions, findings, and recommendations in their reports. The HRTBs also disseminate the work of UN-UPR (UN-Universal Periodic Review), UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council), UN Special Procedures, Academics, and the Courts at national, regional and international levels.

Nevertheless, HRTBs are confronted with considerable impediments in their efficacy and primacy in the absence of compelling machinery to implement the human rights mandate in the UNMS. The treaty obligations both substantive and procedural must be implemented by ensuring the conformity with human rights treaty standards inter-alia compliance of the HRTBs recommendations and submission of reports respectively. However, the majority of the UNMS and states parties to international human rights treaties do not submit their reports on time, and few of them do not report at all to UNHRC. But some states do prepare remarkable reports with the help of their domestic human rights expertise, internal HRDs and other stakeholders and countries also try to ensure significant implementation of HRTBs findings with varying degrees. The emplacement of four new HRTBs in the last ten years has posed a new set of challenges that include their ratification and mounting reporting. As of now, the HRTBs did not receive sufficient resources and wherewithal to monitor and regulate their slow functioning in disposing of backlogs of reports and communications. HRTBs experts are under tremendous pressure due to the mounting workload that strains their efficiency and efficacy. These experts and consultants are nominated and elected by the states parties to the human treaties. They are not paid and serve on the HRTBs in their personal capacities without getting adequate support from the Office of the OHCHR (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights). Therefore, the administrative functionalism in the HRTBs structure does not conform to the global standards that made it cynical and indifferent.

HRTBs Reform Peregrination

Having recognized these challenges, the Human Rights Treaty Body reforms have been initiated in 2009 by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay as a cycle of consultations involving the entire stakeholders to strengthen the HRTBs that has come to known as Dublin Process. These plans triggered significant ruminations among the present and past HRTBs academics, consultants, experts, NGOs, NHRIs, UNMS, UN Secretariat and other UN bodies. The Dublin Process completed its mandate in 2011, but a group of States led by Russian Federation raised objections that impugned process had not adequately addressed the concerns of many stakeholders. Consequently, the group successfully pushed the UN General Assembly to start the inter-governmental process based on SLRP structure. Therefore, UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in February 2012 whereunder process was created that was supported by the eighty-five States and sixty-six States abstained including the US from voting. On the Dublin Process, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published her report in July 2012 and negotiations had started among the States and stakeholders including international civil society institutions and organizations. Consequently, in February 2014 States brokered an agreement that was adopted by the UNGA in April 2014 as a formal resolution.

The Aftermath of the SLRP

The Dublin Process intended to secure the maximum threshold of States compliance with their obligations about reporting and meeting to facilitate the HRTBs to review the UNMS reports in an agreed and stipulated time frame. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has mooted a proposal of adopting the mandatory Master Calendar to ensure the compliance of the States parties to the human rights treaties on every five years, but many States has resisted that. If accepted, the impugned proposal would have doubled the meeting time of the States parties to the human rights treaties, but during SLRP negotiations States raised legal, pecuniary and feasibility challenges and, ultimately, it resulted in a fiasco. Even so, the SLRP has increased the meeting time of the HRTBs by more than 20% during 2012-2015. The average workload of each HRTBs has been determined every two years based on a formula so that there would not be any arrear or accumulation of cases at the cost of other functions and priorities.

Even though the Resolution enhances the HRTBs meeting time, but it does not considerably enhance the total amount of resources reserved for HRTBs. The UN regular budget covers the global funding needs of the OHCHR at a rate of 40 percent approximately. The residue is covered by voluntary contributions from UNMS and other donors. The UN regular budget, approved by the UNGA every two years, is paid by the “assessed contributions” from each Member State that are decided and determined according to a formula that takes into account the size and strength of their respective national economies. The UN’s regular budget should finance all activities mandated by the General Assembly and its subsidiary organs, including the HRC. Further, on an annual basis, the resolution makes provision for creating a capacity-building programme under OHCHR that assists the States upon their request to salvage their problems.

Harmonization of Procedures and Methodologies

The UNHRC’s report impressed upon the HRTBs to harmonize their procedures and methodologies so that their working could be improved. The SLRP or Cross Regional Group (CRG) led by Russian Federation alleged that HRTBs had exceeded treaty briefs in their style of functioning, intangible methods, indulged in political castigation of States and allowing to reference information culled from the civil society institutions like NGOs, etc. Moreover, HRTBs officials resorting to iconoclastic and innovative techniques in developing new procedures to ascribe the States’ policies, general comments, recommendations and enforcement thereof. Consequently, states impressed upon the UNGA to insist on changes to the procedures of the HRTBs and to ensure bigger obsequiousness and primacy to the views of the States. However, many States asked for self-regulation on the part of HRTBs precisely to guarantee impartiality, independence, and honesty in their functions and operations.

The intergovernmental process or SLRP vouches for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ proposed procedural reforms whereunder HRTBs are required to harmonize their procedures. SLRP impressed upon the HRTBs that they must conform to their Mandate and respect the positions of the state parties. Therefore, in achieving the larger harmonization, the resolution called for empowering HRTBs’ Chairs to take procedural decisions incommensurate with their prior deliberations with the fellow experts. Thus, the HRTBs’ Chairs have started the deliberations and discussions in this connection. At one fell swoop, the resolution does not put HRTBs member states in a supervisory control position over the HRTBs experts in ways that could have critically cast a shadow upon their inspection of States’ performance in preserving, promoting, and protecting the human rights. However, the resolution does not support a polemical proposal of CRG that contemplated a Code of Conduct for HRTBs experts while ensuring their accountability under a mechanism. As an alternative, it urges the HRTBs to review their Self-Regulatory Guidelines (SRGs) on accountability and independence while keeping in view the States’ concerns.

Improving the Execution and Openness

There is a requirement of enhancing, improving the existing threshold of execution and implementation of HRTBs with transparency in conformity with UN High Commissioner’s objectives to ensure the high quality reporting and enforcing the HRTBs’ recommendations in the municipal jurisdictions of the States parties. However, UNGA Resolution makes a sporadic mention that States to emplace “standing national reporting and coordination mechanisms” to compile reports in consultation with civil society institutions, NGOs, non-state actors and all stakeholders while appreciating and monitoring the HRTBs work and recommendations and their implementation. On the issue of accessibility and openness, UN High Commissioner advocated their enhancement and reflection in the functioning and operations of HRTBs. Further, UNGA Resolution envisages the UN webcasting of HRTBs meetings but, unfortunately, it has been perceived as rhetoric leaving it to OHCHR to arrange its funding. Moreover, it has also recommended that HRTBs should stipulate word limitations to reports and representations made by the NGOs and other civil society groups just to rationalize the cost incurrences. Similarly, UNGA Resolution begs off to entertain the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner regarding promotion and selection of HRTBs experts and consultants.

Conclusion

The ratification of human rights declarations, treaties, and optional protocols must be mobilized on the largest scale to improve upon human rights protection at all levels of nation-states, regional arrangements, and global commitments. Simultaneously, national constitutions, national legislations, public policies and lego-institutional response structure must conform to the HRTBs system. There are many challenges confronting the HRTBs like overstraining of resources due to the proliferation of human rights treaty bodies, States parties reluctance and irregularity in reporting, and mounting individual communications. However, there are some States both from developed and developing a world that is entirely compliant with their reporting obligations, but there is a backlog of reports with the HRTBs. However, if all the States parties start reporting in a disciplined manner and well-stipulated timeframe, HRTBs system might collapse as it is not well-equipped to handle the entire gamut of reporting submissions. The UNGA Resolution 68/268 has been adopted to reflect upon and strengthen the HRTBs system.

It is aptly be put forward that UN General Assembly has been attending, appreciating and addressing many of the HRTBs concerns regarding resources, functioning, and operations but much remain to be tackled to make HRTBs stronger and stouter in responding to emerging human rights violations. UNGA resolution seeks to make HRTBs system more sustainable and sturdier without incurring further UN resources while making optimum utilization of enhanced meeting time slots. However, the requirement for more resources would occur in future owing to the sustainability apprehensions and anxieties as there would be mounting workload of HRTBs disproportionate to the limits of the volunteer experts’ capacity. Thus, rights-holders and stakeholders of the HRTBs must be central to any review of the HRTBs system.

Therefore, currently contemplated reform agenda is insufficient and intangible to meet these challenges posed by the HRTBs. In a nutshell, all stakeholders to the HRTBs structure must pursue the substantive objectives identified in the Dublin Process along with UN High Commissioner’s Report. Hence, the visibility of HRTBs to larger public must significantly be enhanced, reporting quality and regularity of State reports submissions must be increased, proactive implementation of recommendations of the HRTBs, and strengthening the efficacy of HRTBs membership while upholding the accessibility, accountability, independence and transparency of the HRTBs system to all the stakeholders and civil society groups. HRTBs require these indispensable, inevitable and inescapable changes so that HRTBs could make a greater contribution to the protection, preservation, and promotion of human rights and civil liberties across the world.

Ph. D., LL.M, Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University (SAARC)-New Delhi, Nafees Ahmad is an Indian national who holds a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in International Refugee Law and Human Rights. Author teaches and writes on International Forced Migrations, Climate Change Refugees & Human Displacement Refugee, Policy, Asylum, Durable Solutions and Extradition Issus. He conducted research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Jammu & Kashmir and North-East Region in India and has worked with several research scholars from US, UK and India and consulted with several research institutions and NGO’s in the area of human displacement and forced migration. He has introduced a new Program called Comparative Constitutional Law of SAARC Nations for LLM along with International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law & Forced Migration Studies. He has been serving since 2010 as Senior Visiting Faculty to World Learning (WL)-India under the India-Health and Human Rights Program organized by the World Learning, 1 Kipling Road, Brattleboro VT-05302, USA for Fall & Spring Semesters Batches of US Students by its School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in New Delhi-INDIA nafeestarana[at]gmail.com,drnafeesahmad[at]sau.ac.in

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International Law

Undemocratic United Nations and Global Peace

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War is not the solution to any problem rather war is a problem itself. Many countries believe in diplomacy and peaceful means of problem-solving and conflict resolution. But, unfortunately, many nations still seek solutions of problems and continuity of politics in wars.

If we look at any newspaper, we find too many armed conflicts going on around the globe. To name a few would include a catastrophic war between Russian Federation and Ukraine which has caused tens of thousands of casualties, with millions displaced. Decades-long civil wars and subsequent US-led NATO intervention and withdrawal has brought Afghanistan to the brink of famine and hunger. The whole Middle Eastern region is unstable and striving with civil wars for long. The Arab -Israel conflict and Kashmir Dispute have been there for more than seven decades.

Above-mentioned and many others examples of armed conflicts prove that there is no durable peace in the world. Here one thing that needs to be noted is that conflict is always inevitable among individuals, societies and nations, because the interests of individuals, societies and nations do not always converge. When there is divergence of interests, conflict arises.

What is needed to be done is the resolution of these conflicts. There are two ways to resolve conflicts: one is violent way (use of force) and the other is peaceful way (diplomacy and negotiations). More than seven decades ago, after World War 2, nations realized that war is not solution to any problem and they established United Nations Organization (UNO). Primary objective of UN was and is the maintenance of peace and security in the world.

But, if we look at history, it seems the UN has failed to achieve international peace and security. UN may have had role in preventing the outbreak of another world war, but it could not stop a series of conflicts from Korea, Vietnam to Afghanistan (during Cold War), and from Africa, Middle East to ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict.

This is a question mark on the credibility of UN, that why the UN despite being guardian of international peace and security cannot stop wars.

UN has six principal organs and many Specialized Agencies and Funds for different tasks.  Among them Security Council is the most powerful Organ and is mandated with enforcing international peace and security. UNSC uses two tools to enforce its decisions, one is applications of sanctions and the other is use of force (intervention).

However the concentration of power in the hands of five permanent states of Security Council, namely the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia have been problematic. These five countries use veto power whenever they perceive any resolution to be against their national interest or against the interests of their allies. Throughout the Cold War, US and USSR had paralyzed UN by vetoing resolutions. Same happened with any other conflict including when US drafted a resolution to stop the war in Ukraine.

So, it is crystal clear that if UN (specifically Security Council) is not reformed, UN can not achieve its primary goal i.e. maintenance of peace and security. UN members and experts have talked about reform in Security Council. Experts have also given suggestions and proposals to make UN more democratic and representative. One of those proposals is abandoning veto and doubling the size of SC members. This can make UN more democratic and representative to some extent. But this is not an easy job. Firstly, because P5 are reluctant to abandon this privileged position (veto power). Secondly, countries hoping for permanent membership are opposed by other countries. For example, many European countries object Germany’s membership. Pakistan objects to India’s membership.

 Experts believe the solutions could be the democratization of UN system (particularly UNSC). This is done by involving General Assembly in the decision making regarding international peace and security. General Assembly is a symbol of democracy, representing almost all the states on the globe. Simple or two-third majority must be mandatory to make any decision regarding international peace and security. This could stop any powerful state to use UN as a tool for its own vested national interest , and the decision of majority will prevail. All the states, big and small, powerful and weak will have equal say in the UN. Otherwise the possibility of wars, violence, genocide and injustice will further increase.

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United States thinks it’s ‘the exception to the rules of war’

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The architects of those Nuremberg trials—representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France fully expected that the new United Nations would establish a permanent court where war criminals who couldn’t be tried in their home countries might be brought to justice. In the end, it took more than half a century to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC). Only in 1998 did 60 nations adopt the ICC’s founding document, the Rome Statute. Today, 123 countries have signed.

Guess what superpower has never signed the ICC? Here are a few hints? – writes Rebecca Gordon in an article at “The Nation”:

Its 2021 military budget dwarfed that of the next nine countries combined and was 1.5 times the size of what the world’s other 144 countries with such budgets spent on defense that year.

Its president has just signed a $1.7 trillion spending bill for 2023, more than half of which is devoted to “defense” (and that, in turn, is only part of that country’s full national security budget).

It operates roughly 750 publicly acknowledged military bases in at least 80 countries.

In 2003, it began an aggressive, unprovoked (and disastrous) war by invading a country 6,900 miles away.

Yes! The United States is that Great Exception to the rules of war.

While, in 2000, during the waning days of his presidency, Bill Clinton did sign the Rome Statute, the Senate never ratified it. Then, in 2002, as the Bush administration was ramping up its Global War on Terror, including its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan and an illegal CIA global torture program, the United States simply withdrew its signature entirely. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (photo) then explained why this way:

“The ICC provisions claim the authority to detain and try American citizens — U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, as well as current and future officials — even though the United States has not given its consent to be bound by the treaty. When the ICC treaty enters into force, U.S. citizens will be exposed to the risk of prosecution by a court that is unaccountable to the American people, and that has no obligation to respect the Constitutional rights of our citizens.”

The assumption built into Rumsfeld’s explanation was that there was something special — even exceptional — about US citizens. Unlike the rest of the world, we have “Constitutional rights,” which apparently include the right to commit war crimes with impunity.

Even if a citizen is convicted of such a crime in a US court, he or she has a good chance of receiving a presidential pardon. And were such a person to turn out to be one of the “current and future officials” Rumsfeld mentioned, his or her chance of being hauled into court would be about the same as mine of someday being appointed secretary of defense.

The United States is not a member of the ICC, but, as it happens, Afghanistan is. In 2018, the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, formally requested that a case be opened for war crimes committed in that country. ‘The New York Times’ reported that Bensouda’s “inquiry would mostly focus on large-scale crimes against civilians attributed to the Taliban and Afghan government forces.” However, it would also examine “alleged C.I.A. and American military abuse in detention centers in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and at sites in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, putting the court directly at odds with the United States.”

Bensouda planned an evidence-gathering trip to the United States, but in April 2019, the Trump administration revoked her visa, preventing her from interviewing any witnesses here. It then followed up with financial sanctions on Bensouda and another ICC prosecutor, Phakiso Mochochoko.

So where do those potential Afghan cases stand today? A new prosecutor, Karim Khan, took over as 2021 ended. He announced that the investigation would indeed go forward, but that acts of the United States and allies like the United Kingdom would not be examined. He would instead focus on actions of the Taliban and the Afghan offshoot of the Islamic State.

When it comes to potential war crimes, the United States remains the Great Exception. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were just a little less exceptional?

If, for instance, in this new year, we were to transfer some of those hundreds of billions of dollars Congress and the Biden administration have just committed to enriching corporate weapons makers, while propping up an ultimately unsustainable military apparatus, to the actual needs of Americans?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if just a little of that money were put into a new child tax credit? – asks Rebecca Gordon.

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Selective Standards: Fight Against Oppression or Just a Geopolitical Showdown for Global Supremacy?

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The karma of destiny is perhaps the most patent representation of natural balance one could witness in a lifetime. The global divide between democracy and autocracy has been a mainstay of western diplomacy since the days of the Cold War. ‘Rule-based International Order’ has been the de facto foreign policy of subsequent western administrations – the United States, in particular. One would assume that the virtue of such an altruistic agenda would extend universally regardless of caste, creed, and ethnicity. But unfortunately, while nature could prove occasionally unfair, each successive American regime sets new records of cant and hypocrisy, as if trying to remind us of its duplicitous existence and deviant machinations.

The war in Ukraine was the grotesque highlight of the year 2022. But what notably garnered considerable spotlight was the western unity against Russian maneuvers. Placing crippling sanctions on the Kremlin – done. Cutting energy imports from Russia – mission accomplished. Military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine – $65 billion have already been appropriated to Kyiv, while an additional $47 billion got approved in a $1.7 trillion government funding bill signed by President Biden. What else? Oh, yes! Sanctions on Iran for supplying military drones to Russia, allegedly used in surveillance and targeted attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure. Russia got ejected from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), ridiculed in the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and suspended from the Group of Eight (G8) in 2014 for annexing Crimea. All in the name of, and I quote the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “defense of the UN Charter and in resolute opposition to Russia’s devastating war of aggression against Ukraine and its people.” Well, is the defense of the UN Charter absolute or subject to the selective judgment of the United States? Is all aggression against any innocent civilians culpable, or just Russian predation against innocent denizens of Ukraine? The answer was pretty evident on (ironically) the last day of the year that would remain earmarked in history as the year of the notorious Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The UNGA voted on a resolution calling on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to opine on the legal consequences of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. Today, Israel colonizes swathes of Palestinian land beyond the borders established under the 1947 UN Partition Plan (contentious in itself to begin with). Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, this illegal occupation also includes Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. The resolution passed 87 to 26 with 53 abstentions. Unsurprisingly, the typical states opposing the resolution were the United States and Britain – the flag-bearers of justice in the Russian war in Ukraine. The same standard-bearers of international law that applauded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for dragging Russia to the ICJ before Russian forces even fully penetrated the Ukrainian borders. It is another rueful example of a shameless display of hypocrisy on the geopolitical canvas. And it would’ve been tragicomical had it not been par for the course – a historical cliche!

Last month, two US lawmakers: namely House Reps. Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson, introduced a bipartisan congressional resolution calling on President Biden to boot Russia from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for its “flagrant violations” of the UN Charter, including its illegal naturalization of four Ukrainian oblasts and committing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. While the expulsion proceedings of a permanent member of the UNSC are both obscure and (frankly) unrealistic without Russian consent, this scenario is spectacularly ironic.

In November 1967, the members of the UNSC voted unanimously for Resolution 242: calling out Israel to withdraw from the annexed territories seized in the Six-Day War. Yet 55 years later, Israel not only continues to violate the resolution, it also proceeds to expand settlements on expropriated Palestinian land with impunity. In the last five decades, the Israeli regime has demolished over 28,000 Palestinian homes in the occupied territory; spawned more than 200 settlements and outposts. And between 600,000 and 750,000 Jewish settlers have been transferred to the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The violence against Palestinians has never ceased.

According to the data from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a total of 424 children have been killed in Ukraine by Russian barbarity. Apartment blocks razed mercilessly; the electricity grid battered to the brink of collapse. The United States has termed it a ’systemic’ assault on humanity, and President Biden even called it a “genocide.” The same department (OHCHR) reported in May 2021 that the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip killed 242 Palestinian children. Was Israel punished for its war crimes? Far from it. President Biden recently congratulated the incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the architect of the 11-day war in 2021, on forming the government – terming him as his “friend for decades” while conspicuously ignoring concerns regarding the inclusion of far-right racist politicians in the new cabinet.

The US officials have always maintained a programmed PR narrative of “Israel’s right to defend itself.” From what, children? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Israeli aggression in Gaza displaced more than 74,000 Palestinians, including 7,000 children without a roof, scant food supplies, and virtually no access to medical assistance. The WHO also reported the decimation of 30 health facilities in Gaza due to Israeli airstrikes. Yet, annualized military aid to the tune of $3.8 billion continues to flow to Israel from the United States. What more to explain other than the absolute mockery of international law; the farce of diplomacy of human rights and equitable justice at the behest of the apparently puritanical United States of America.

History is riddled with numerous examples of American duplicity. The American acquiescence to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which eventually galvanized the Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah. The United States vetoed the UNSC resolution – one of its 53 vetoes time and again used to shield Israel from global denunciation – calling for Israel’s immediate withdrawal from southern Lebanon. An estimated 49,600 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians died during the occupation. And then there are glaring examples of American interventions. Its outright support to the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet Union and the subsequent provenance of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. How can one forget the devastating invasion of Iraq on the utterly bogus canard of Saddam Hussein wielding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Between 2003 and 2006, the US-led assault resulted in over 655,000 Iraqi civilian casualties, primarily due to the indiscriminate aerial bombardment by the US forces on Iraqi towns and cities. And the civil vacuum engendered in wake of the Iraq War served as a breeding ground for radical offshoots of Al-Qaeda – later accreting under the banner of the Islamic State (IS). How can a country such as America still enjoy a moral high ground when its historical scroll stands emblazoned with unilateral aggression, illegal intervention, and unabashed prevention of justice against its genocidal allies?

The war in Ukraine is a blood-strewn conflict but a rendition of complex realpolitik import and balance of regional power dynamics. Opposing Russian cruelty should not implicitly spell out support for American rhetoric. One could still stand with Ukrainians while denouncing its backers in the name of universal covenants of justice. All humans are entitled to the right to life, security, freedom, and dignity. These fundamental rights should not waver based on alliances – political, ideological, ethnic, or otherwise.

While the passage of this UNGA resolution is a promising sign of growing global consciousness, it won’t yield any significant, policy-altering outcomes. In 2004, the ICJ weighed on the issue of Israeli occupation and ruled that the wall in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem was illegal. In response, Israel termed The Hague ‘politically motivated’ and rejected the ruling. Similarly, the Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, speaking ahead of the vote, characterized this resolution as “a moral stain on the UN,” further arguing that “no international body can decide that the Jewish people are occupiers of their own homeland.” Russia makes an eerily similar argument about Ukraine; Russian President Vladimir Putin aspires to ‘Reunify the Soviet Motherland.’ Even China’s President Xi Jinping posits a parallel assertion regarding the ‘reunification’ of Taiwan with the Chinese motherland. The resemblance is uncanny. But while the US continues to support Ukraine to wrestle back lost territory from Russian troops; continues to arm Taiwan to defend against a potential amphibious invasion from China, plans are effectively underway to move the US embassy to Jerusalem – a tacit nod to Donald Trump’s aberrant recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – despite the city’s disputed status under the international law. I reckon the words of Ms. Tirana Hassan, the acting executive director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), in her introductory essay in the HRW World Report 2023 aptly bewail these double standards: “[In] a world in which power has shifted, it is no longer possible to rely on a small group of mostly Global North governments to defend human rights.

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