So what are you writing about this week,’ my wife inquired. ‘How the United Nations is unfit for purpose and become something of a laughing stock,’ I replied.
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘Well, Iran is now a seminal force on the UN Human Rights Council.’
‘You’re joking!’ she responded, incredulously.
‘Sadly, I’m not. There’s a major UNHRC event currently taking place in Geneva under the chairmanship of Iran’s ambassador to the UN.’
‘Well,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘I suppose President Putin must think he’s in with a chance for the Nobel Peace Prize.’
The vague purpose of this week’s Swiss lakeside UN jamboree was to study the potential contribution of science, technology and innovation in promoting human rights.
UN ambassador Gilad Erdan wears a yellow Star of David as a protest
Given Iran was chair of this week’s UNHRC event in Geneva we can be sure it didn’t dwell on the summary arrest and incarceration of protesters, the beating (sometimes to death) of women who fail to wear the hijab and the torture and execution of dissidents and the hanging of gays from cranes
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi listening to a speech at the closing ceremony at Geneva Peace Week
Along with China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Afghanistan and several other well-known bastions of freedom, Iran effectively calls all the UN shots on human rights, which means the world’s most repressive regimes are rarely embarrassed by anything the UN has to say about their appalling human rights records
Given Iran was in the chair we can be sure it didn’t dwell on the summary arrest and incarceration of protesters, the beating (sometimes to death) of women who fail to wear the hijab, the torture and execution of dissidents and the hanging of gays from cranes — all of which are a well-established feature of Tehran’s approach to human rights.
But Iran is well-placed to share its expertise with others about the role of innovation in suppressing human rights. Along with China, it is in the vanguard of developing facial recognition technology to identify ‘enemies’ of the regime and deal with them accordingly.
Nor does it lack friends and allies on the UNHRC. Along with China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Afghanistan and several other well-known bastions of freedom, it effectively calls all the UN shots on such matters, which means the world’s most repressive regimes are rarely embarrassed by anything the UN has to say about their appalling human rights records.
Not so Israel which, despite being the only democracy in the Middle East (just about the only country in the region, for example, where you could march under a Pride flag without the risk of being beaten to a pulp), is a constant target of the UN’s ire.
There was no respite even after Hamas’s barbaric attacks on October 7. Indeed the UN couldn’t wait to blame it all on Israel, continuing its long tradition of attacking Israel for being attacked.
After a perfunctory condemnation of Hamas, the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, a former socialist prime minister of Portugal and generally regarded as a political pygmy, moved quickly on to what he really wanted to say.
The Hamas invasion, he averred, ‘did not happen in a vacuum’ but was the product of ‘years of suffocating occupation’. It was as close to justifying the attacks as you could get without saying so explicitly. He went on to demand Israel resist the urge to retaliate even as Hamas rockets still rose from Gaza City en route to Israeli targets.
There was no respite even after Hamas’s barbaric attacks on October 7. Indeed the UN couldn’t wait to blame it all on Israel, continuing its long tradition of attacking Israel for being attacked, writes ANDREW NEIL
Israel has not occupied Gaza since 2005 and that it only quarantined the territory after Hamas took power with a pledge to ‘obliterate’ Israel. Naturally, it was anxious to limit Hamas’s ability to import an arsenal to attack it
While Israel has grown accustomed to the UN taking anti-Israel stances, it was nevertheless outraged. Its ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, accused Guterres of ‘justifying terrorism’ and demanded his resignation.
Guterres did later claim that his comments had been ‘misinterpreted’ and pointed out that he had also said ‘the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas’.
But the damage was done. Many reckoned he came as close to justifying the attacks as you could get without saying so explicitly.
Erdan now wears a yellow Star of David, in an echo of the Nazi era when Jews were forced to display just such a star in public to make it easier to identify and demean them.
He says he won’t take it off until the UN Security Council condemns the ‘atrocities of Hamas’. It looks like he could be wearing it for quite some time.
A more balanced and helpful intervention by Guterres would have recognised that Israel has not occupied Gaza since 2005 and that it only quarantined the territory after Hamas took power with a pledge to ‘obliterate’ Israel. Naturally, it was anxious to limit Hamas’s ability to import an arsenal to attack it. Guterres might also have shown some concern that elements of the billions of dollars which have flooded into Gaza in aid over the years, often under UN supervision, have been purloined by Hamas to buy weapons and build tunnels.
Erdan says he won’t take his Star of David off until the UN Security Council condemns the ‘atrocities of Hamas’. It looks like he could be wearing it for quite some time
Even water pipes have been requisitioned to make missiles. But the UN has long given up any kind of balance when it comes to Israel. All of its agencies are hostile to it — not just the UNHRC — and none more so than the UN Relief and Works Agency whose educational materials used in classes for Palestinian refugees are suffused with anti-Semitism and glorify jihad and its associated warriors.
Its maps don’t even include Israel but refer to areas of ‘Zionist occupation’.
The UN’s anti-Israeli stance is now systemic. In one recent year the General Assembly managed to pass 15 motions condemning Israel while mustering only one each in condemnation of Iran, North Korea and Syria, three of the most evil regimes on the planet.
Its ‘special rapporteur’ on the area refers to the Palestinian plight as a ‘holocaust’, claims America has been ‘subjugated by the Jewish lobby’ and defends Hamas’s ‘right to exist’.
The head of the UN commission on Israel is no less biased, calling for sanctions against ‘apartheid Israel’ (a well-known anti-Israeli trope), assisted by another UN diplomat who complains that accusations of anti-Semitism are too easily thrown about, like ‘rice at a wedding’. When it comes to being an honest broker, the UN is to Israel what FIFA is to honesty in sport.
The UN was founded in the aftermath of World War II to succeed the League Of Nations, which had lamentably failed to deal with the rise of the dictators and the rush to war in the 1930s.
It had the noble purpose of promoting peace and justice so that there would not be a third world war. But as the decades passed, it ended up more in the grip of those promoting war, injustice, tyranny and terrorism.
It is at its most egregious in its attitude to Israel but, truth be told, it has become increasingly marginal, in most of the world’s great political crises. It is hard to see, in recent times, where it has made a constructive difference or helped promote peace and democracy. Perhaps that’s not surprising.
The five permanent members of the UN’s Security Council include Russia and China, which this month took on the body’s rotating presidency. They have no interest in promoting democracy and are not averse to war when it suits them, as in Ukraine.
After a perfunctory condemnation of Hamas, the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, a former socialist prime minister of Portugal and generally regarded as a political pygmy, said that the conflict didn’t ‘happen in a vacuum’
The world’s 12 most important democracies pony up 60 per cent of the UN’s budget (with America alone providing $12 billion a year). But Russia and China regularly wield their Security Council vetoes to keep the world safe for autocracy.
The history of this century so far has been dominated by the depressing rise and consolidation of dictatorship, in which the UN has been complicit. As a result, it is hard not to conclude that the UN is going the way of the League Of Nations.
The more marginal it becomes to the geopolitics of the 21st century the more hysterical its rhetoric. The UN has led the way in organising a global response to climate change, but its efforts to dragoon everybody into a net zero strategy is beginning to fall apart, leaving Guterres to rant that we are on the brink of ‘global boiling’, which even the UN-sponsored climate science doesn’t predict. It merely discredits the UN further.
From time to time, there is bold talk of reform though it never amounts to anything. The autocratic powers that be are doing too well out of the UN status quo to allow real change. The brave new world the UN was meant to usher in looks as far away as ever.
Realpolitik suggests the democracies would do best to let it slowly wither on the vine while gathering in a more robust association of like-minded nations which act together in defence of freedom, human rights and democracy.
It will not be easy — democracies are naturally disputatious and it will take time. But the autocrats are on a roll, the UN is incapable of curbing them and the democracies need to get their act together and act in unison if the rest of this century, like the first two decades, is not also to belong to the Chinas, Russias and Irans of this world.
Such a terrifying prospect should be enough to galvanise our spirits and set our shoulders to the wheel.