The Obama administration has been under siege for its support of the U.N.’s top human rights body, the U.N. Human Rights Council. Until today, Syria was seeking to join the Council during elections scheduled to take place at the General Assembly on May 20, 2011. The administration, European states, and other Council fans were already reeling from Libya’s election last May and were desperately looking for a way to save the Council from oblivion. The solution is to replace Syria with Kuwait. Obviously, the anybody-but-Syria campaign spent little time considering the suitability of their replacement candidate.
Kuwait is hardly qualified to serve on the Human Rights Council. According to recent reports of Freedom House and the State Department, there is no rule of law in Kuwait. There is no independent judiciary. The emir appoints all judges. The emir has the authority to dissolve the National Assembly at will. Formal political parties are banned. Women are required to have a male guardian in order to marry. Women are eligible for a half of their brother’s inheritance. Spousal rape is not a crime. The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Vacationers have spent months in jails if airport officials hear them “insulting the emir.”
In other words, Kuwait will fit right in with current Human Rights Council member Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading example of a gender apartheid state, with its entire female population subjected to male domination and grotesque forms of subservience. Not to mention the periodic beheadings which are part of the Saudi judicial system and the illegality of any public display of a religion other than Islam.
But Saudi Arabia had no difficulty at all of being elected by the General Assembly to the Council, garnering a whopping 154 of 191 votes cast in May 2009. Nor are members Cuba, China, and Kyrgyzstan worried about their tenure, despite the fact that these states bear no resemblance to democratic societies. Syria was simply unlucky enough to have killed a few too many people just prior to election season. The billion Chinese subject to a lifetime of atrocities haven’t been quite as fortunate.
Iran wanted to run for a seat on the Human Rights Council during the last election in 2010. The solution to the delicate problem at that time – with the approval of the Obama administration – was to give Iran a seat on the U.N.’s top women’s rights body instead. As of March 2011, Iran is happily ensconced as a member of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.
Nobody is saying what consolation prize Syria will be awarded for withdrawing its Council bid, under the U.N.’s twisted notions of entitlement and dessert. The Arab League likely also had a hand in crafting the Kuwait-for-Syria deal. But there is a deafening silence about what the Obama administration might have offered the Arab League for its role. Regardless, the diplomatic endgame appears to have been all smoke and mirrors.
Council membership is divided among five regional groups, and Kuwait will replace Syria as a candidate from the Asian group (primarily because the Arab League has laid claim to at least three seats in the Asian allotment). All Arab states are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and with Kuwait’s election OIC countries will compose 69 percent of the Council members from the Asian group. OIC countries will also continue to make up a majority of the members from the African group. Since the Council is organized so that the Asian and African groups taken together represent 55 percent of the total membership, Islamic states will continue to hold the balance of power.
Muslim domination of the Council has translated into a body which over its ignominious lifetime has adopted at least as many resolutions and decisions condemning Israel as all other 191 UN member states combined. The Kuwait-Syria switcheroo may change the optics for those who haven’t noticed or don’t care about Kuwait’s abysmal human rights record, but it will mean absolutely nothing in terms of substance.
Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a professor at Touro College, and the editor of EYEontheUN.org.