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UN’s comedy of errors

The United Nations (UN) headquarters is the only office building in New York City where it’s legal to smoke, since it’s not considered American territory. Anirudh Bhattacharyya writes.

columns Updated: Jul 14, 2012 00:18 IST

The United Nations (UN) headquarters is the only office building in New York City where it’s legal to smoke, since it’s not considered American territory. That’s pretty fitting for an organisation that’s running on fumes.

But given the recent development at the global body, you have to wonder exactly what is being lit up in that joint.

Exhibit A is certainly recent reports that Syria, and Bashar al-Assad’s regime, is a credible candidate for election to the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC). Assad is burnishing his human rights credentials for the 2013 vote by relentlessly massacring civilians in his own nation. He isn’t quite bashful about his bashing, unless the Turks talk turkey about the Syrian Air Force downing one of their fighter jets.

Meanwhile, Iranian news agency IRNA reported that Iran had been elected to a significant post for talks “to regulate global arms trade treaty”. Again, aptly enough, it occurred days after the Security Council called out Iran for violating UN mandated sanctions against exporting weapons, and arming the Syrian government. “This is like choosing Bernie Madoff to police fraud on the stock market,” pointed out Hillel Neuer, executive director of the non-profit UN Watch, which blew the whistle on the farce. But, regardless, the UN keeps whistling in the dark.

The UN has more important issues to tackle. For instance, its High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is fuming at human rights violations in the Canadian province of Quebec, where the government imposed a mild order to prevent disruptive assembly by student protestors. Pillay was possibly perturbed that Quebec wasn’t dealing with protestors in the manner sanctioned by Syria, or Iran.

It’s somewhat surprising that the UN’s human rights apparatus is actually going beyond its focus on castigating Israel, to countries like Canada, the US, or even India.

Though it doesn’t quite extend to matters like gay rights, as that offends many member nations of the HRC. When the Council’s president attempted to introduce that matter, a swift rebuke came from Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative in Geneva: “We are even more disturbed at the attempt to focus on certain persons on the grounds of their abnormal sexual behaviour.”

Meanwhile, the world busybody is causing other problems for countries that actually recognise the normal meaning of human rights. Another human rights champion, Cuba, sponsored a resolution to “right to peace”, which winks at terrorists’ activities against “foreign occupation”. India abstained at the vote, possibly because of the implications for Kashmir. Co-sponsors of that declaration included well-known human rights stalwarts like China, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Sudan and Syria.

Of course, as far as these UN luminaries can see, there are no terrorists. In fact, despite decades of effort, they still can’t define a terrorist. It’s probably a task that’s deemed more difficult than the positive identification of the Higgs boson particle.

The UN’s comedic league of notions, which includes an Office for Outer Space Affairs, comes at a price of nearly $20 billion each year, for over 10,000 global bureaucrats and their tax-free salaries. That’s probably why they figure the idea of countries implementing fiscal austerity measures is dangerous, resulting in a petulant note to all member States from the chairperson of the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, on how that threatened human rights. After all, belt tightening to reduce the UN’s waste size could endanger the most precious rights of the UNistas themselves, or as regular people describe them, the UNable.

The UN’s comedy of terrors may continue in September if Assad uses his diplomatic right to address the next session of the General Assembly, blowing smoke in the tradition of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and late Libyan supremo Muammar Qaddafi.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years

The expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jul 13, 2012 21:01 IST