Little more than a month ago I posted a piece here about Saudi Arabia winning a key role at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the world body's very own exemplar of hypocrisy -- where governments run by despots get to shield each other from global scrutiny while drawing attention to those nations they find it convenient to skewer.
That post was written on the occasion of the absolute monarchy's ascendence to the chair of the UNHRC panel that selects investigators to report on allegations of human rights violations made against specific nations. Choose the investigator and you've largely assured that the outcome will be to your liking.
This post is occasioned by last week's UN General Assembly vote that appointed or reappointed 18 UNHRC members, seven of whom were reelected to serve a second consecutive three-year-term. (The United States, it's second term three-year-term now up, leaves the UNHRC at year's end in accordance with UN term-limit rules.)
The results were largely predictable. Nations with terrible human rights records were added or reelected to the UNHRC. They include Togo, Burundi, Venezuela and United Arab Emirates.
All four nations have been accused by human rights watchdog groups of curbing freedoms of speech, press, religion, and assembly. Additionally, they've been accused of having government-corrupted legal systems and have voted against UN resolutions meant to aid victims of human rights abuses in various global conflict zones.
But while the Saudi Arabia story received some elite media coverage, the UNHRC election appears to have been largely ignored by American news outlets.
Frankly, that's no surprise. The UN routinely receives little American press attention other than when it hosts speechifying world leaders at the opening of the General Assembly's annual fall session, or when it's Security Council ponders its next military intervention.
The highest-profile mention I found on the vote was a short post on FoxNews.com. It reads like a wire service pickup, though a staffer's name is mentioned as a contributor. Moreover, it's not a story about the vote itself. It's a react follow up in which Israel's UN ambassador is critical of anti-Israel Venezuela's addition to the UNHRC.
(The UNHRC has criticized Israeli actions more than that of any other nation. Since its formation in 2006 it has condemned Israel 62 times, as opposed to just 59 for the the rest of the world combined. The Israel condemnation requests are generally instigated by Muslim-majority nations and pass with simple majorities, with many nations abstaining. China has never been condemned. Nor has Russia or Egypt. The nations most condemned for rights' violations after Israel are Syria, 17, and North Korea, 8.)
I also found a mention of the election on the conservative (and relatively minor) daily Web publication American Thinker. That's pretty much it, though I'm sure other outlets also picked up bits of wire reports on the voting that have not been posted on the Web.
Why does this matter? Why should American journalists -- and Western media in general -- pay more attention to the political machinations of the UNHRC?
Rather than reinvent the wheel, let me repeat what I said about the UNHRC in my first post. Here are the pertinent graphs:
Why is this important to journalists, and religion writers in particular?
Because the skewed judgements and pronouncements emanating from the Human Rights Council are too often reported -- particularly in barebones wire-service stories [which is all most media consumers get to see] -- as carrying legitimate moral authority with little or no information that adds important counter-balancing context.
But what moral authority can there be in a 47-member body that includes, in addition to Saudi Arabia, the likes of China, Russia, Ethiopia, Kazakstan, Pakistan, Venezuela, Qatar, Cuba and the Maldives – all serial and serious human rights' violators? The United States, Japan, France, Germany and the United Kingdom are also members, but have no greater individual say than does any other nation in the group. Majority rules.
Human rights violators covet a seat on the HRC to stymie investigations or statements that might call them to task. If ever there was a clearer case of foxes guarding hen houses, well, please tell me about it.
I also found several pieces on the UNHRC vote on foreign Websites, many of them with a partisan axe to grind. Here's one. It's a link to Latin America Goes Global, a site devoted to human rights, democracy and other progressive concerns. Needless to say, its opinion piece on the UN voting was highly critical of Venezuela's reelection.
And then there was coverage meant to stick it to a rival. For example, India's news media took delight in reporting that Pakistan was defeated in its bid for a second term, while India remains on the UNHRC (it's term ends in 2017). Click here and then here.
As more and more Muslims pour into Europe, there's bound to be increased upset in the continent's Christian and/or rightwing political communities (I'm not conflating the two; they may overlap in some instances but they're also quite distinct, for too many reasons to get into now).
And in that case, the UNHRC surely will be called upon to condemn the anti-Muslim sentiments that will flare. Why wait for UNHRC crisis coverage? That kind of coverage is too often unsatisfactory simply because of deadline pressures.
Readers deserve to know in advance about the UNHRC so they may understand why it acts as it does.