With Gaza quiet and the civil war ended in Sri Lanka, the United Nations has put its investigators on the job, assigning them to produce official reports that will almost certainly add to the world's store of duplicity and hypocrisy.
Next month a team from the UN Human Rights Council will hold hearings in Gaza on war crimes possibly committed during the Israel-Hamas fighting. In Geneva on Monday, the council will begin studying Sri Lanka because (as its typically pompous statement declares), "The international community must strive to deliver justice to victims of human rights violations wherever they occur and ensure that those found guilty of such crimes are held accountable for their actions."
One of the wonders of the world is the reputation of the United Nations. There are many people in many countries who believe (or claim to believe) that it can be relied on for fairness, honesty and competence. Year after year it embarrasses itself through everything from deep bureaucratic corruption to utter failure in dealing with global crises like the genocide in Darfur. Yet somehow its opinions and "facts" still carry weight.
The UN brings to almost any given war or near-war a bias that reflects the interests of its most influential members. Still, the world's journalists credulously broadcast and print every figure the UN issues. How many dead in Sri Lanka? The UN tells us. Is the ceasefire holding in Gaza? Only the UN can say for sure.
UN's the name, truth's the game. Having no authority with loftier credentials, we habitually and foolishly believe for the moment what the UN says and hope the real truth will eventually emerge (which it often fails to do).
The Human Rights Council, the worst symbol of the UN's degeneration, was established in 2006 to replace the widely discredited and derided Commission on Human Rights. But the new council's deliberations are a farce, just like the old commission's, and for the same reason: It pretends to promote human rights while it's dominated by states that routinely abuse the rights of their own citizens -- China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba, to name three.
Despotism is no barrier to membership. States sitting on the Council are elected in regional blocs: 13 each from African and Asian groups, for instance, and seven from the West. With the Arab countries abundantly represented, it's not surprising that of the first 10 special meetings held to discuss alleged infractions of human rights, five focussed on Israel.
Hardly a word is said against China or Zimbabwe. Arab delegates complain about "exaggerated" reports of violence against women. A Nigerian representative told the council that "stoning under shariah law for unnatural sexual acts should not be equated with extrajudicial killings."
In March, 2007, the Montreal-born Hillel Neuer, director of UN Watch, gave a brilliantly pointed speech to the council, arguing that it ignores atrocities all over the world, many committed by its members, while concentrating on Israel; he pointed out, for instance, that the council shows concern for the death of Palestinians only if they are killed by Israelis. His speech, now a major hit on YouTube, was coldly rebuked for its blunt language by the council's president at the time, Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico.
The new organization shows even less interest in individual rights than the old one: In March it passed a resolution that effectively supports laws (now common in some Muslim countries) against criticism of religion. "Combatting the Defamation of Religions," proposed by Pakistan and duly passed (23 votes for, 11 against, 13 abstentions), redefines racial discrimination to include criticism of religion.
Apparently "the overall campaign of defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general" has intensified since 9/11. Therefore, the council believes that religions should be exempt from ordinary criticism. This means (as Ibn Warraq and Michael Weiss recently pointed out in an article in City Journal) that the UN now gives moral support to a ban on blasphemy.
That's a goal desired by many Muslims. On the other hand, blasphemy was (and is) a crucial element in the creation of modern civilization. Since the 17th and 18th centuries, progress has depended on the freedom to commit what many Christians and Jews have regarded as blasphemy.
When the UN was founded in 1945, only a deep-dyed pessimist would have guessed that it would decay over 64 years into a vast international embarrassment. And even someone with that dark a view would never have guessed that the UN would one day set about reversing the Enlightenment.