It was initially heartening at the end of May to hear the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, say that an assessment of human rights violations needed to occur regarding the recent phase of the Sri Lankan civil war. Although this seemed obvious to anyone reading the news, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that such an investigation would take place.
Thus, the matter was brought up on May 27th in a special session of the UN’s Human Rights Council. The Council voted 22-16 (with 9 abstentions) to accept a resolution that commended the Sri Lankan government and military and condemned the violent activities of the Tamil Tigers.
The resolution states (among several other items):
Commends the measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the urgent needs of the Internally Displaced Persons;
Condemn[s] all attacks that the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) launched on the civilian population and its practice of using civilians as human shields;
(A link to the full text can be found at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/11/index.htm).
This same body held a special session on the Israeli-Palestinian situation earlier this year. The title of the special session was “Grave Violations of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including the recent aggression in the occupied Gaza Strip". Let me emphasize: this was the title of the session, not the conclusion it reached. The very language used to frame the discussion explicitly prejudged the outcome. (Now, I am all for moral clarity – sometimes, it is clearly one side that is the aggressor. But somehow moral clarity at the UN (and similar bodies) shows up only where Israel is concerned).
Here, too, regarding Sri Lanka, the Council showed a bias. Yet, in this case, it was the government that was praised for protecting its citizens and the rebels/terrorists who were criticized for their disregard for human life.
Could anyone imagine the Government of Israel being commended for anything, and/or the Palestinians being condemned for attacks on Israeli civilians? Of course not. But why?
If the Council’s perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were grounded solely in a concern for human rights, then we would expect it to condemn both sides for violations. We would expect, at the least, for Palestinian terror tactics to merit a mention in the Council’s statements. (A perusal of recent UN resolutions on Israel will not find such mentions). Similarly, we would expect the Council’s statement on Sri Lanka to raise alarm about the Sri Lankan military’s actions over the last several weeks. By virtually all news accounts, the army shelled areas crowded with trapped civilians and then locked up these civilians in refugee camps without allowing agencies like the Red Cross to deliver services to them.
The absence of these kinds of statements shows that the Council has adopted a position on each conflict, and has determined that only the side it considers to be at fault will be subject to criticism. In other words, the ends justify the means.
What should we, then, do? It is tempting to shrug our shoulders and say ‘Well, what else can we expect from the UN?’ And that’s true. We cannot expect anything else from a body constituted of so many countries that demonize Israel. At the same time, we need to keep ourselves knowledgeable about the hypocrisies shown by international bodies. We have to continue to point out these hypocrisies, and use them to challenge those who oppose Israel – whether they do so out of ignorance, willful blindness, ideology, or even principle.