Muslims in the Russian Federation and in China – who are pursuing their ‘universal right’ to self-determination in the face of horrendous opposition – were probably not surprised by the abrupt way in which moves in the UN to condemn violations of human rights in China and by Russia were blocked. A majority of the 53 members of the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) voted on April 16 to reject the motions, while at the same time adopting resolutions on North Korea, Cuba, Belarus and Turkmenistan. The watchdog is too politicised and, in any case, is not designed to adopt remedial measures against violations of human rights committed by powerful members or their allies. Members of the UNHRC are nominated by regional bodies with little regard for their human-rights record. The common interests of despots ruling Muslim countries and those powerful UNHRC members to have human rights suppressed has meant that resolutions intended to benefit Muslims have mostly been rejected.
Human-rights groups expressed anger at the manner in which Beijing and Moscow were helped by developing countries in the UNHRC to have the resolutions thrown out. "The Commission’s votes show that powerful countries like Russian and China can still get away with murder, torture and the silencing of critics," said Joanna Weschler of Human Rights Watch. "Commission censure is increasingly limited to politically isolated countries," she added. But when those "isolated countries" are suppressing Islamic groups advocating the establishment of Islamic governments, or campaigning against the imperial intervention of strong states such as the US in the Muslim world, even they often prove to be immune to censure.
A good example of isolated states that are not only immune but can even manage to have their representatives nominated as chairmen of the UN Human Rights Commission is Libya. Last year, when it was still a "pariah state", it secured the support of African countries to take Africa’s turn to chair the Commission, despite opposition by Western countries. But that opposition must have been half-hearted at best, for at least two reasons: western powers are normally able to pressurise African countries to vote with them on UN bodies when they really need and want their backing; and Libya and the West have always cooperated secretly to suppress Islamic organisations and hunt Islamic activists. Moreover, at the time of the vote, Libya and the West were in secret negotiations, which finally led to the recent rapprochement between the two, following Libya’s declaration that it was abandoning its imaginary weapons of mass destruction. Libya has not been asked to improve its poor human-rights record as a condition for relations to improve, and is now a valued partner in the ‘war against terrorism’. American and European firms are now flocking to Tripoli for contacts and contracts, and president Mu’ammar Qaddafi has been invited to Brussels for talks with the EU.
The hypocrisy of the EU countries is indicated by the fact that while they are inviting Qaddafi to Brussels, they are seeking to indict Sudan for alleged ethnic cleansing in the western region of Darfur. The Commission met on April 21 to discuss the resolution against Sudan even before the preliminary report by its experts was handed to the UNHRC and hence its members. The reason is that, only two days earlier, the Sudanese government had invited UNHRC investigators to visit Darfur, and their preliminary report, compiled before the investigators went to Sudan, became redundant. Despite this, EU members asked the Commission to issue strong sanctions against Khartoum. But the following day the African members, realising the absurdity of punishing Sudan before a proper investigation, put pressure on others to postpone the vote. No date has been fixed for another session.
Clearly the Commission is too politicised to vote on issues of principle. The draft resolution against China, for instance, was introduced by the US, whose motives were to pressurise Beijing into reaching an agreement in economic negotiations the two were holding at the time. The two governments announced on April 22 that they have agreed to resolve a series of economic disputes, in a deal that could improve president Bush’s re-elections prospects. China agreed to delay indefinitely a plan to impose a security standard for wireless communications that would have forced US telecommunications companies to license the necessary technology from Chinese competitors. Washington believed that by doing so China was aiding its technological companies at the expense of American rivals. China also agreed to make it easier for American companies to export and sell directly into China by accelerating the elimination of laws that had forced foreign companies to work through Chinese state companies. It is now obvious that the introduction of the US draft resolution was intended only or mainly put pressure on Beijing to come to terms favourable to the US. That explains why Washington did not twist allies’ arms to ensure that the draft resolution was passed.
The EU members of the UNHRC displayed similar cynicism by voting against the draft resolution censuring Russia. EU countries are keenly interested in Russia’s huge energy resources, and are keen to sell their manufactured goods to it. It is, of course, true that both the US and the EU countries are also interested in the economic resources of developing countries, but they believe that they do not need to make concessions to tap those resources. Developing countries, for instance, argue that the Commission’s resolutions are used against them by Western nations that reject any accusations of human rights violations against themselves. But they mostly put up little fight, and in most cases vote with the powerful Western governments, especially when the vote is directed against Islamic activists or organisations.
The Russians naturally celebrated their victory by killing five Chechen activists, claiming that they had been behind the recent killings in Moscow and other Russian cities. Russian newsagencies said that troops killed four Chechen ‘rebels’ linked to the guerrilla leader Shamil Basayev in a shoot-out near the Chechen border. They added that soldiers had also killed "a Wahhabi militant" in Johar-Gala (the Chechen capital, which the Russians call Grozny). The Russians know that they can get away with murder if the victims are Muslims: all they have to do is call their victims terrorists, as Israel does to the Palestinians whom it maims or kills.
It is not too cynical to conclude in these circumstances that the ‘universal rights’ do not apply to Muslims, and so are not universal. Looking to UN bodies to secure Muslims’ human rights is a waste of time and resources. But exposing this sort of truth about the West and the systems it has set up is a necessity. So the Islamic Human Rights Commission did right when it held a one-day conference on Islamic and Western perceptions of human rights in London on September 12, 2003, for instance. Some of the material presented to the conference was published in the October and November issues of Crescent. It is needful that this kind of exposure continue so that Muslims worldwide become familiar with the fraudulent nature of the international system and the role played by Muslim dictators.