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Western Press Review: Who To Blame For U.S. Ouster From Rights Body?

  • Daisy Sindelar

Prague, 7 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today is dominated by last week's (3 May) ouster of the United States from the UN Human Rights Commission. The secret ballot, which awarded France, Austria, and Sweden the three seats available to Western countries, marked the first time since the commission's creation over 50 years ago that Washington failed to secure a spot. Most comments are critical of the United States' own complacency in failing to actively lobby for votes. Many also question the worth of the commission without U.S. participation.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" begins: "And so it has come to pass that the torments of the world's most unfortunate men, women, and children will be monitored not by the U.S., but by the likes of Sudan, China, Libya, Algeria, Syria, Vietnam, and Cuba." It continues: "The U.S. supposedly is getting its comeuppance for acting arrogantly and 'unilaterally.' This is ludicrous."

Blame for last week's vote, the paper says, should go both to the "abusers' bloc" -- nations with poor human rights records who banded together to erode commission support for the U.S. -- and to the United States itself for dawdling in its appointment of a new ambassador to the UN. But, the paper adds, "more immediately to blame for Thursday's vote are the Western Europeans, who offered three candidates in addition to the U.S. for the three seats allocated to the West. The European Union should have persuaded one of them to stand aside."


Two comments in "The New York Times" also look at the issue. An editorial says the ouster comes "thanks in part to the inattention of the Bush administration," adding that a key factor in the vote "was the rising resentment abroad about America's often patronizing treatment of the United Nations and Washington's disdain for international compacts on issues ranging from the environment to the use of land mines."

The paper adds that some U.S. behavior -- including what the editorial describes as its tendency to treat the UN as an "irritating stepchild" -- has "needlessly provoked opposition." It continues: "Washington's failure to pay UN dues is the most conspicuous example. But member states are also angry about the Pentagon's insistence that Americans not be covered by an international criminal court, the Bush administration's withdrawal from talks about global warming and even Washington's policies of pushing poor countries not to make copies of AIDS drugs. [U.S. President George W. Bush's] open contempt for the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has alarmed not only Russia, [but] NATO allies as well."


In a second comment in "The New York Times," Merle Goldman -- a former U.S. delegate to the UN Human Rights Commission -- writes that China's "satisfaction" with Washington's ouster "reveals how important the U.S. has been at the commission in dealing with China's human rights record." She continues: "[Debates] within the [commission] have been far more effective than Congressional denunciations or criticism by human rights [groups] in moving China toward compliance with international norms."

Goldman adds: "Some say that UN human rights resolutions are meaningless because there is no way to enforce them. But because China wants to be a major global player, it has increasingly complied with or signed onto norms recognized by the world community." The United States, she concludes, "has now lost [its] most effective forum for bringing pressure on China with regard to human rights."


An editorial in the "Los Angeles Times" calls the United States' ouster "ignominious." The paper writes: "As private comments made clear, it was payback time for what a growing number of states deplore as [Washington's] new go-it-alone approach to global affairs." In its unilateral-leaning behavior on the Kyoto Protocol, missile defense, and an international criminal court, the editorial adds, "the U.S. has an obligation to consult with its friends and prepare the way diplomatically when it knows its plans are controversial. It is its manner of acting -- not just its actions -- that evokes resentment." The paper concludes: "The [human rights] commission promises to be a weaker body without American participation, perhaps even, as some fear, an irrelevant one."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" says Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who on 4 May declared his intention to stand for re-election, is likely to win a second term. He should use it, the paper advises, "to impose his authority more forcefully on the fractious regime, if he is to justify continued domestic and international support for Iran."

It continues: "If Mr. Khatami is re-elected, conservatives, who control key institutions such as the armed forces and the judiciary, are unlikely to ease their grip. [This] leaves Western governments in a quandary. They risk backing a leader whose domestic reforms may be used as a fig leaf to distract attention from the continuing abuse of human rights. Western governments must make clear that diplomatic relations and financial credits are tied to progress on reforms. They must also warn the Iranian leadership against meddling in the Arab-Israeli conflict, through support for radical groups."


Commentator Gunther Nonnenmacher writes in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung": "That the Macedonian leadership is now considering declaring a state of war is a clear indication of how serious the conflict [between the country's Slav majority and ethnic Albanian minority] is." He goes on: "The Europeans and Americans must step up actions against the KLA [ethnic Albanian fighting group] in Kosovo. It is obvious, after all, that these rebels -- once freedom fighters, now called terrorists -- will try to make up for their poor showing at the polls by upgrading their military activities, especially in those places where until now this could be done at relatively little risk." At the same time, he adds: "Europeans must persuade the Macedonian government to honor its promises and allow the Albanian population of the country a fairer and more visible part in public life."


An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" calls Pope John Paul's historic visit yesterday to a Damascus mosque "typical of a man who has convened a meeting of world religious leaders in Assisi, placed a prayer in the interstices of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and embarked on a series of journeys to centers of Orthodoxy -- Romania, Georgia, Greece, with Ukraine and Armenia to follow." The paper continues: "[Contrast that] with the attitude of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who used the papal welcoming ceremony on Saturday (5 May) to give renewed expression to his virulent anti-Semitism."

The editorial concludes: "Taken in conjunction with the Pope's visit to the Holy Land last year, this unprecedented [visit] is a further attempt to bring together the three great monotheistic faiths which honor Abraham as their father. That endeavor has marked John Paul's pontificate with greatness."


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" comments on U.S. multimillionaire Dennis Tito's space vacation. The paper says: "Although the insurance millionaire used his full range of superlatives to describe his eight-day whirl around the Earth, [little] of his enthusiasm found an echo in America. NASA (the U.S. space agency) complained about the 'incredible stress' his visit had caused its employees and threatened to sue his Russian hosts for wasting research time. [The] Russians, by contrast, were overjoyed with their first civilian passenger, as well they might be: his round-the-world air ticket had netted them $20 million, enough to pay 15 percent of Russia's annual space budget."

It adds: "Mr. Tito, in truth, probably found the trip more frightening than he cared to admit. But his enterprise in insisting, despite NATO's churlish discouragement, on reaching the heights and nirvana of weightlessness must be applauded. Rich men all too easily spend their money on the gadgets of a gaudy consumerism. Were more people to use their money to change their view of the world, they might discover something longer-lasting than today's fads or tomorrow's fashions."