This loathsome UN hypocrisy

By Robert Philpot, June 12, 2014
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On April 3, a gay Ugandan teen swallowed rat poison and pills, bringing an end to a life he believed had no value. He was 17 years old.

Passage of the country's Anti-Homosexuality Act, signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni in February, has triggered a wave of persecution against Uganda's gay and lesbian community, including mob violence, evictions, blackmail, arrests, people losing their jobs, and suicides.

Sexual Minorities Uganda, a locally-based gay rights group, reports a tenfold increase in attacks on LGBT people and attributes them directly to the law, which imposes life sentences for "aggravated homosexuality".

On Wednesday, the United Nations honoured this advance for human rights by choosing Sam Kutesa, Uganda's foreign minister, as the new president of the General Assembly. He will hold the largely ceremonial role for 12 months, having been chosen by the African Union whose turn it is to pick the president.

Last week, I signed a petition against Kutesa's appointment. The charge-sheet against him – including multiple allegations of corruption – is not limited to the issue of gay rights. But that issue tells us much about Museveni's regime which, having ruled Uganda for 28 years, is attempting to revive its flagging popularity by stoking violence against a vulnerable minority.

But now I am having second thoughts about signing that petition. Isn't Kutesa, perhaps, an apt choice to represent the UN?

Let's consider the UN's human rights priorities over the past year.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed 25 resolutions. According to UN Watch, China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Zimbabwe all escaped censure. By contrast, no less than 21 resolutions singled out Israel for criticism. The other four concerned Syria, which has murdered 160,000 of its own people; North Korea, which a recent UN report compared to Nazi Germany; Iran; and Myanmar.

There was nothing particularly unique about 2013. Had, for instance, the General Assembly opted during its 2006-7 session to pass 21, not 22, resolutions condemning Israel, it might have found time to pass a resolution condemning Sudan's genocide in Darfur. But it chose not to.

Ironically, this was the session which opened with then Secretary-General Kofi Annan admitting that "supporters of Israel feel that it is harshly judged by standards that are not applied to its enemies, and too often this is true".

Israel should never be exempt from criticism, but its treatment is a gross violation of the UN Charter's principle that all nations should be treated equally. And the UN's anti-Israeli posturing does the Palestinian people no favours. As UN Watch notes, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine "only looks at Israel's actions and has no mandate to examine violations committed by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas". The relentless focus on Israel allows serial abusers of human rights a free pass. But that is the point.

It is not just the General Assembly which is afflicted by these double standards.

Last month, the World Health Organisation passed only one country-specific resolution. Prompted by Bashar al-Assad's regime, it condemned health conditions in the Golan Heights. On the rest of Syria, it was silent. The most recent session of the UN's Human Rights Council passed 10 country-specific condemnatory resolutions, five of which concerned Israel.

But what do we expect of a body which has "human rights" in its title and counts Saudi Arabia and China as members? And why are we surprised when, in April, members of the UN Economic and Social Council elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women? Or when, on the very same day, Iran – alongside Russia, Sudan, and Azerbaijhan – won a place on the UN body which oversees the work of human rights organisations?

Chairing meetings and shaking hands, Uganda's foreign minister will be the perfect poster boy for the UN's human rights hypocrisy.

    Last updated: 12:44pm, June 12 2014