The Magazine

Qaddafi's Good Friend at the U.N.

From bad to worse in Turtle Bay.

May 15, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 33 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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The fact that Ziegler served not one but two terms in his U.N. position illustrates why the U.N. is so impervious to reform. Ziegler was first chosen in 2000 for three years. Conceivably, the member states who voted to approve him knew little of his record. But, three years later, he had given ample demonstration that he intended to use the position to attack America and Israel, while largely ignoring the world's hungry. Accordingly, the United States opposed his nomination for a second term. Australia abstained, while the other 51 members of the Commission on Human Rights, including Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, voted for him.

It is no longer true, as it was during most of the U.N.'s history, that the majority of its member states are dictatorships. But sadly, the record shows that, except for the United States, the democracies are rarely willing to stand on principle against the leftist/Third World-ist ideology that dominates the body.

After decades of absurdities and outrages, such as the selection of the government of Ziegler's ally, Muammar Qaddafi, as chairman of the Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. leadership confessed that the commission had become an embarrassment. At the U.N. summit this past fall, member states agreed to start over by replacing the commission with the new Human Rights Council.

The format of that body was negotiated over the following six months. The United States (and Kofi Annan) backed several proposals designed to make it less likely that the council would be as subservient to brutal dictatorships as the commission had been. One proposal was to make it much smaller. Another was to require that states be chosen for seats on the council by a two-thirds vote. The idea behind both was that they would make it harder for egregious rights abusers to get elected.

The latter proposal was defeated, and the former nearly so: The council will consist of 47 members, down only slightly from 53 for the commission. In a last desperate stab at establishing some minimal standard for membership on the council, Washington proposed that member states currently under sanction by the Security Council for human rights abuses or terrorism be considered ineligible for membership. At most this would have disqualified a handful of states, but even this lilliputian barrier was deemed too high.

The council, in short, will be the commission all over again. Apparently it will inherit the subcommission and with it, almost surely, Jean Ziegler, who is at this time one of only three nominees for the three seats apportioned to the Western group. This hero of Qaddafi's is a symbol--both ridiculous and painful--of an organization that rarely fails to disappoint.

Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of The Future of the United Nations: Understanding the Past to Chart a Way Forward (AEI Press).