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Selling Out Civility in the Middle East By: Gerald Adler
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 27, 2005


The United Nations Charter indicates that the UN should be dedicated to the promotion of human rights.  However, Secretary General Kofi Annan, speaking in Geneva, has warned that the ability of the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) "to perform its tasks has been …. undermined by the politicisation of its sessions and the selectivity of its work."[1] Many of those backing the cause of human rights have been found to be guilty of violations in their own countries.

Of the fifty-three members of the UNCHR, maybe sixteen represent pluralistic societies. The current chairperson is from Indonesia, whose government is known for its bloody treatment of separatists. In 2003, the chairperson was from Libya, another non-democratic society.

The consequences of this dearth of members from the free world are as expected: Of the thirty-seven draft resolutions passed in the current 61st session of the UNCHR, eleven are associated with specific countries. Of these, six resolutions criticise Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. Absent from discussion are the well-known perpetrators of human rights, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and dozens of others. Why were these long-time violators not brought up for censure?

 

Maybe this concentration on Israel reflects opinions on the ground. This week, the UK’s Association of University Teachers will discuss banning Israeli lecturers who are unwilling (sic) to disassociate themselves from Jerusalem’s policies. A minority of American shareholders tried unsuccessfully to force the “Caterpillar” tractor manufacturer to cease selling to Israel. And the World Council of Churches is promoting divestment from Israel, in protest at her supposed continued violations of civil liberties.

 

Evaluating any country’s position towards human rights is not a simple task. Over the past decade many internationally respected institutions have published annual data, ranking the advancement of individual countries in the fields of freedom of the press, pluralism and democracy. For example, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is a poll of polls, reflecting the perceptions of business people and country analysts. The Cato Index measures the degree to which the policies and institutions of countries are supportive of economic freedom. Amnesty International compiles data of executions

 

Concentrating on press liberties, The Reporters Sans Frontiers [Reporters Without Borders, RWB] organisation ranked 167 countries (with Finland first in terms of the most freedom).  RWB stated in its October 2004 report that the countries of Eastern Asia and the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia (159), Iran (158), Syria (155) and Iraq, (under U.S. occupation 148) are considered "the worst regions in the world" in the field of press freedom.


Consider the following from the reports of both the RWB and The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

 

Iraq:

 

Twenty-five journalists have died since the U.S.-led war began in March 2003.

 

The West Bank and Gaza:

 

Palestinian journalists are vulnerable to the increasing lawlessness in the areas under the control of the PA.

 

CPJ reports: "Palestinian militias and armed groups have frequently threatened and assaulted reporters and in some cases have ransacked news offices. In 2003 and 2004, Palestinian gunmen raided two television news offices and a newspaper in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, attacked a correspondent on the street in Gaza, and assaulted a reporter in Ramallah."  Following summary trials, fifty-one prisoners in Ramallah and elsewhere are currently awaiting execution.

 

Israel:

 

CPJ reported: "At least three journalists have been killed [in the disputed territories] since April 2003—by Israeli army gunfire. . . .Israeli authorities enforce tough restrictions on their freedom of movement."

 

RWB ranks Israel 26th.  In the areas under Israel's control in the West Bank and Gaza, it is ranked 37th

 

Egypt:

 

Ranked 128 in press freedom by RWB, Egypt's government is known for not tolerating criticism. Opposition journalist, Abdelhalim Kandil was beaten by armed assailants and warned "to stop talking about important people."

 

Statistics show beyond all doubt that such human-rights abuses exist on a far greater scale in these countries than occur in Israel.  Even taking into account Israel's ongoing war against terrorism, Israel still clearly has a much better record for honoring human rights than any of its neighbours.

 

It is debatable why the media rarely cover human-rights abuses in most of Israel's Middle East neighbours. The Barnabas Fund seeks to help persecuted Christian minorities in Jordan, in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority (including Bethlehem) and elsewhere. Its efforts are barely mentioned, even amongst journals of its own faith.

 

The irony is clear. Democratic societies, with their freedom of the press, are open societies.  They are exposed to criticism from their own press, as well as external hostile sources. Such is not the case in those countries, which the RWB ranks as repressed. 

 

Perhaps, saddest of all,  is that the UNCHR allows itself to be used by these authoritarian societies.  Diplomats, trades union officials, academics or members of the clergy who accept such positions, are demeaning their moral standing and integrity. Encouraging such unbalanced criticism of one country, Israel, while blatantly ignoring the ongoing human-rights violations by some of the most restrictive countries of the world, merely buries the truth, causing one to doubt the honesty of  those who are considered most trustworthy.

Dr. Gerald Adler, formerly a member of the Law Societies of Ontario, Israel and England, and Professor of Law at University of Western Ontario, and Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, represents B’nai Brith in the UN Association.


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