At this writing, the post of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is vacant. A truck bomb in Baghdad has killed High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello and other dedicated UN staff.
This web site contains the text of my 1997 letter to his predecessor, former High Commissioner Mary Robinson, asking that she take action to fix a broken and corrupt UN human rights system. Indeed, many times in the past decade, I have tried by every means at my disposal to call attention to nonfeasance, probable misfeasance, and possible malfeasance on the part of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture. The Office of the High Commissioner has not addressed the issues I have raised. I maintain that this inattention has, in recent years, caused millions of persons to suffer, and many thousands to die.
The original version of this web page referred to Mrs. Robinson and contained the following paragraphs:
Certainly, budgetary restrictions imposed by the USA's reluctance to pay its dues have severely hampered her efforts. So has an unwieldy UN bureaucracy that in recent years has placed far stronger emphasis on peacekeeping (NATO-style) than on human rights. Within these constraints, Mrs. Robinson has spoken truth (some truth) to power (some powers). She has presented herself with dignity and apparent sincerity.
My praise for her person and her efforts, however, walks in the shadow of profound disappointment. Even within the limitations of her office, there are things that the High Commissioner might have done -- should have done -- but, for some reason, failed to do.
The second version of this page, extending my appeal to the late Sergio Viera de Mello, was sadly ironic. As it turned out, High Commissioner de Mello functioned only briefly, if at all, in his official position. The peace-keeping of which I had written earlier claimed his time, his energy, and, eventually, his life.
Thus, the stark deficiencies that haunt the UN's human rights process remain unacknowledged and unremedied.
By failing to take a vigorous stand against the United States, the Committee Against Torture has emboldened this nation in its ever-advancing torture agenda. In 1999, The Clinton Administration submitted, four years late, the Initial Report of the United States of America to the UN Committee Against Torture. This remarkable exercise in evasion, buck-passing, and sophistry speciously rationalized the "understandings" that the US Senate had imposed in its ratification of the Convention Against Torture. While complaining that the USA was imposing its own definitions on those stated in the Treaty, the UN Committee Against Torture failed to note, and apparently didn't want to be reminded, that these "understandings" provide convenient loopholes for certain kinds of mental and physical torture. The Committee noted and praised President Clinton's toothless Executive Order 13107 and the USA's system of civil rights laws. Ignored, however, was the reality that federal civil rights laws are generally enforced only at the discretion of the authorities -- that US residents don't enjoy a right to complain and to have the complaint examined and pursued, as the Treaty assures.
The current US Administration of President George W. Bush, of course, has displayed gross arrogance in disregarding even the limited standards set by his predecessor. How vigorously, how effectively, has the UN protested this barbarity?
The UN's own record regarding individual complaints submitted under the Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or under Article 22 of the Convention Against Torture is abysmal. A table on the Human Rights Committee's web site shows clearly that most complaints are found inadmissible, including nearly all submitted against West European nations. The Committee Against Torture, which meets only twice a year, has a similar table that demonstrates a similar pattern.
The UN thus appears to be "soft" on America and Western Europe, and the High Commissioner has done nothing about it. This discrimination -- this corruption -- has cost many lives, especially among persons who sought asylum in Europe, as I did.
Nearly twelve years of effort have failed to prompt any information from the UN about the reception, admissibility, or status of my own complaints against Denmark and the Netherlands. I have no reason to believe that future sessions of the Human Rights Committee or the Committee Against Torture will demonstrate any significant change with respect to me or any other person seeking to press a complaint against the nations of Western Europe.
The Human Rights Committee and the Committee Against Torture are the last hope for those who file complaints before them. These bodies ought to do their duty with fairness and efficiency, re-affirming principles, re-establishing standards, and reinforcing the Rule of Law, on which the very survival of civilization depends. They have failed to do so, in my case and many others.
In effect, the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been vacant for a number of months. Is the UN human rights system dead? Is the last, best hope of many aggrieved individuals gone forever?
May Sergio Viera de Mello rest in peace. It is time now to demand that his replacement display the dynamic leadership that the world's oppressed people deserve. It is time to restore the UN's power by restoring its integrity.
I therefore request that Secretary General Kofi Annan name a High Commissioner who will root out the corruption and end the coverup. For my sake and the sake of humanity, I ask him and all persons of good will to Please Make the UN Do Its Job!
Selected Documents and Links
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