|The UN official previously known as His Highness Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein|
We're more sensitive now to how public figures like to get up on their soap-boxes and preach to others about what they ought to be doing. When they do, our strong inclination is to take a look behind the scenes and see whether the values of the speaker match the high rhetoric of the speechifying.
Take the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein as an example.
Once Jordan's ambassador to the UN and to the United States, he was appointed by acclamation to the HCR role by all 193 members of the UN General Assembly in June 2014, amidst flattering compliments and expressions of unbridled optimism. We have seen it described as a unanimous appointment but even if some people had their doubts, no one spoke out against.
He happens also to be a member of Jordan's royal family - a prince, in fact - as well as the pretender (an actual title) to the throne of Iraq. (Arab kingdoms tend to be both more complex and less complex than most people realize.)
Mr Ra'ad al-Hussein is busy this month as the notorious United Nations Human Rights Council over which he presides meets for its latest three-week-long gathering in Geneva. The HRC is made up of "47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe".
Sounds worthy, of course. But the reality tends towards the shabby. As one report noted in March 2017:
According to the U.N.'s top human rights body, Israel is the worst human rights violator in the world today. That’s the result of the latest session of the UN Human Rights Council which wrapped up in Geneva on Friday by adopting five times more resolutions condemning Israel than any other country on earth... The Bush administration refused to join the Council when it was created in 2006. On March 31, 2009, President Obama – fully aware of its entrenched anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bias – made jumping on board one of his very first foreign policy moves. Moreover, in an unscrupulous attempt to control his successor, the former President obtained yet another three-year term for the United States on the Council that began on January 1, 2017... The Council plays a leading role in the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state by the United Nations. In its history, the Council has condemned Israel more often than any other of the 192 UN states. Comparative totals after this session’s pogrom tell the story: Israel – 78 resolutions and decisions, Syria – 29, North Korea – 9, and Iran – 6. As for Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China, there’s nothing at all.Lately, some member states have noticed. The British, for instance:
The UK has put the United Nations Human Rights Council "on notice" over what it called its "disproportionate focus on Israel". On the final day of the council's 34th session the UK mission to the UN said it would vote against all resolutions about Israel's conduct in the occupied Syrian and Palestinian territories if things did not change... [Independent UK, March 25, 2017]The Americans have too:
Washington has long argued that the Geneva forum unfairly focuses on Israel's alleged violations of human rights, including war crimes against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The United States "remains deeply troubled by the Council’s consistent unfair and unbalanced focus on one democratic country, Israel", Erin Barclay, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, told the U.N. Human Rights Council. Barclay said that no other nation had a whole agenda item devoted to it and that "this obsession with Israel" threatened the council's credibility... "In order for this Council to have any credibility, let alone success, it must move away from its unbalanced and unproductive positions," Barclay said. "As we consider our future engagements, my government will be considering the Council's actions with an eye toward reform to more fully achieve the Council's mission to protect and promote human rights." The United States is currently an elected member of the 47-state Geneva forum where its three-year term ends in 2019... ["U.S. seeks end to U.N. rights council's 'obsession' with Israel", Reuters, March 1, 2017]That was in March. What's changed since then? Not that much. Here's a report from just 6 days ago:
…In a speech opening a three-week session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein observed the 50th anniversary of when he "first heard the sound of war" as a boy in Amman, Jordan. He said Palestinians were now marking "a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force" and marked by "systematic" violations of international law. Israelis also deserve freedom from violence, Zeid said, adding: "Maintain the occupation and for both peoples there will only be a prolongation of immense pain..." ["End of Israeli occupation would benefit both sides: UN right chief", Reuters, June 7, 2017]And this from yesterday:
“The High Commissioner notes the repeated failure to comply with the calls for accountability made by the entire human rights system and urges Israel to conduct prompt, impartial and independent investigations of all alleged violations of international human rights law and all allegations of international crimes,” the report said. Zeid's report also noted “the State of Palestine's non-compliance with the calls for accountability and urges the State of Palestine to conduct prompt, impartial and independent investigations of all alleged violations of international human rights law and all allegations of international crimes.” The report looked set to ignite further debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council, where the United States said last week it was reviewing its membership due to what it calls a “chronic anti-Israel bias.” ["Israel, Palestinians have failed to prosecute war crimes: U.N.", Reuters, June 12, 2017]Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein first got our attention in April 2017. It was one of those cases we described above - a public figure lecturing others, in this case the authorities in Jordan where Prince Zeid (his other name) is (as we mentioned a few paragraphs up) a member of the royal Hashemite family.
We emailed a cluster of his senior staff people - this is the unedited full text:
April 4, 2017
Re: Extraditing Ahlam Tamimi
We were pleased to see the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, speak forthrightly [link] four days ago about how states must (a) honor their treaty obligations, (b) act on legitimate arrest warrants and (c) respect the great importance of the global struggle for justice and against impunity.
Prince Zeid was addressing the failure of his own homeland, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in relation to a notorious fugitive from justice, the president of Sudan, who ought to have been arrested when he came to Jordan.
We are the parents of Malki Roth who was murdered in 2001 in the horrific Hamas attack on women and children in a pizzeria in the center of Jerusalem. Malki was 15. Fourteen other people were killed and 130 terribly injured.
The mastermind of the attack is a Jordanian woman. She was eventually arrested and confessed to all the charges. She was convicted on 15 counts of murder and was sentenced to multiple life terms. Her sentence was drastically commuted eight years later in the 2011 deal Israel made with the Hamas terrorist organization to secure the release of an Israeli captive. She has lived free in Jordan since then, proudly taking "credit" for the murders and basking in the status of celebrity.
Our daughter was a US citizen. Under US law relating to acts of terror, her killer must face justice in the US. The US formally requested some time ago that she be extradited by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. But Jordan has refused. The woman, Ahlam Tamimi, is subject to a US arrest warrant and appears on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list.
We are respectfully asking that the High Commissioner speak as clearly and forcefully to the King and government of his homeland, Jordan, about Tamimi as he did four days ago in that other matter. We ask him to tell Jordan that, in relation to Tamimi, it must (a) honor its treaty obligations, (b) act on legitimate arrest warrants and (c) respect the great importance of the global struggle for justice and against impunity.
We appreciate you conveying this to the High Commissioner.
Frimet and Arnold Roth
In case this slipped by. An acknowledgement of receipt would be appreciated.Then again:
Third try - sorry to note that we have no acknowledgement from any of you. In our view, the issue we have raised is a serious one, and the sort that ought to be addressed by the High Commissioner's office. With great respect to your roles and responsibilities, unless we have something from you today, we will assume no response is going to come and proceed accordingly.A few days later, this nice reply arrived:
Dear Ms and Mr Roth,We waited until April 12, 2017 - a month and a half later - and sent this:
Thank you for your message and sorry for the delay in acknowledgement - I can assure you that all messages received by this office are taken seriously, with only one problem being that there are too many of them from across the world, with many serious crisis and violations still ongoing, and too few people and resources to handle all of them.
Your message is of course well received, including by the Executive Office of the High Commissioner (where I belong) and the MENA section of the Office. It will be given proper attention - I can assure in this - and you will receive a response upon due consideration.
With full understanding and sincere sympathy for your loss.
Human Rights Officer
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Dear Mr Nokiforev,The kind Human Rights Officer didn't have an actual answer but replied nonetheless, and promptly - in fact the same day:
Consistent with your OHCHR's slogan, we sincerely support the idea of "Stand up for someone’s rights today" [that's the business slogan that appears on the OHCHR's website]. We hope today will be the day the High Commissioner conveys to Jordan the message we outlined in our letter to the Office of the High Commissioner of April 4. As you know, it has still gotten no response.
Frimet and Arnold Roth
(Grieving parents of Malki Roth)
Dear Ms and Mr Roth,We felt sorry for the OHCHR whose annual budget for 2017 is US $253 million and which is beset with "many, many tasks and urgencies with inadequate resources to handle them". So we sat patiently and then sent this on May 28, a month and a half later, with copies to the same senior OHCHR people whom we had originally approached on April 4 and who were all otherwise engaged:
Thank you for your support to our campaign worldwide. Your message is acknowledged and my response to you still stands. There is really no need to send reminders, all messages are taken seriously but they require proper consideration among many, many tasks and urgencies with inadequate resources to handle them all at the same time.
Dear Mr Nokiforev,No response so far from any of them. Those "urgencies" and the "many, many tasks" - which happily did not get in the way of the prince chastising his Jordanian friends over the matter of the Sudanese butcher all the way back on March 31, 2017 - seem to still be keeping the OHCHR team pre-occupied.
Six weeks after your last memo assuring us that we are not overlooked or forgotten, we think we are now privileged to have a fuller understanding of what OHCHR means by the word "someone" in your slogan "Stand up for someone’s rights today".
We again express the sincere hope that eventually, the High Commissioner will convey to Jordan the message we outlined in our letter to him of April 4 even though it has gotten no response.
But perhaps you or your colleagues copied on this email will acknowledge that OHCHR's silence until now speaks eloquently for itself.
We see ourselves free to now air this issue in public places.
Frimet and Arnold Roth
(Grieving parents of Malki Roth)
The bright side is we think we have a better gasp now of how the human rights industry sorts out its priorities. Bringing the murderers of Israeli children to justice does not rank all that high up, it turns out. We're very surprised by that.
If we're wrong, we hope Prince Zeid (in case he's reading this) or one of his staff people will still get back to us. But to be really frank, we're not holding our breaths.