U.N. Decision Says More About U.N. Than U.S.

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Breaking news: a secret vote at Joliet state prison has led to the ouster of the long-serving warden, with rule enforcement now to be decided by a collection of death row inmates.

Sound too ludicrous to be true? It is, but not much more so than the recent vote to drop the U.S. from the United Nations Human Rights Commission on the same day Sudan and Libya, two members of the State Department's list of terrorist nations, were elected to the panel.

What is most galling is not that the U.S. was voted off, but that so many people think we should be the ones embarrassed by this act. This includes House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who scolded the president, saying: "Unfortunately, today's action demonstrates that U.S. unilateralism in foreign policy has consequences."

Gephardt says that the administration needs to be more sensitive to other countries feelings as it develops its policies. Apparently we should be the only nation in the world that doesn't act first and foremost in our own interest on critical economic and security issues. Luckily the Bush team doesn't agree. Instead they've signaled their intention to stick to a firm pursuit of our national interest.

Contrary to accusations that Bush's recent pronouncements on missile defense and global climate change were the cause for the U.S. getting bumped from this human rights post, the real reason is a combination of self-interested coalitions exacting influence. Countries like China, Cuba, Iraq and Sudan want to weaken the pressure on them from the U.N. by getting their most persistent (and least compromising) critic off the main body that deals with persecution and oppression.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said at a news conference, "The U.S. has for years staged confrontations on the question of human rights and all its efforts brought failure on 10 occasions." Sun was referring to failed American efforts since 1990 to seek a U.N. resolution condemning China's human rights record. Beijing has managed to ward off the resolutions by drumming up support from mostly African and Asian nations to block them. This year, the U.S. again launched a campaign to have the U.N. denounce what it considered a serious deterioration of rights in China in the past year, notably the often-violent crackdown on the banned Falungong spiritual group.

Saad El-Faragli, an Arab League representative to the UNHRC, said that the "U.S. based its human rights policy on a narrow definition of individual rights and market mechanisms" and criticized the U.S. for gross interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. And an editorial in the Malaysian paper New Straits Times complained that the U.S. has not been "sensitive to cultural variations in the standard-setting of universal human rights."

The abandonment of European support should not come as a surprise either. Ever since the end of the Cold War and the establishment of the European Union, many traditional allies have pushed for the E.U. to become more independent of the U.S. and for it to compete with us for influence internationally. In its annual report on UN voting patterns, the State Department noted a widening gap between the votes of the U.S. and those of our traditional friends in Europe and even NATO. In 1997, U.S. and E.U. member votes at the U.N coincided 73 percent of the time. That number plunged to 62.5 percent last year. Although there is no direct correlation between the votes and the human rights snub, it's fairly apparent times are changing with more European solidarity.

The world is still feeling its way after the end of the Cold War. We can probably expect to continue to be called upon for leadership in times of international crisis. But we can also expect, that in our new world, different priorities will assert themselves. Sometimes this means self-interest will occasionally prevail over what is right. What's important to remember, is that our role as a beacon of freedom and the voice for human dignity, is not contingent on membership to any commission.