It’s taken a while – since 1949, in fact, when novelist Eric Blair, better known by his pseudonym George Orwell, wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four – but the adjective which derives from his adopted name has become commonplace in the English language.
"Orwellian" suggests a bizarre inversion of reality, manipulation of the truth. Sounds extreme? The sort of practice one might find only among notoriously repressive regimes of the ilk of Libya, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia perhaps? In fact, it happens quite comfortably within an allegedly reputable international organisation.
The United Nations Human Rights Council was established in 2006 after Secretary-General Kofi Annan acknowledged that its forerunner, the Human Rights Commission, had become mired in partisan agendas and vested interests, allowed countries with appalling human rights records to become members and consequently lost its way. It was in dire need of reformation, he assured the world.
The cure has proved worse than the disease, with states such as Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, China and North Korea - all of which violate human rights as policy – were voted onto the Human Rights Council. Libya, where abuse is commonplace, was elected to chair the Human Rights Council while being investigated for corruption.
The loser in this shameful state of affairs? Human rights and human beings. All Iranian girls can be forcibly married from the age of nine. All Saudi womenregardless of age, cannot vote, drive, walk outdoors without a male guardian or prosecute sexual abuse cases unless they have four witnesses. The innocents of Darfur, Harare and Beijing suffer indignities on a daily basis with negligible hope of those capital cities ever being held to scrutiny, let alone to account. People who suffer from homophobia, genital mutilation, child slavery, similarly have little hope.
Just days ago, Mohammed Merah murdered a Rabbi, three Jewish children and three paratroopers in France, citing his allegiance to Al-Qaeda ideology as his motivation and informing police that his only regret was that he had not killed more Jews. The viciousness of his actions – particularly the chilling cruelty with which he pursued eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego and grabbed her by the hair before shooting her three times – brought France to a standstill and its presidential campaign to a halt.
And the Human Rights Council, the apparent world bastion of human rights, did it find it within itself to denounce unequivocally this barbaric violation of the most fundamental of human rights – the right to life? Or to pause, even fleetingly, to offer a word of solace to the grieving families which had been summarily destroyed in an act so callous as to cry out for world condemnation?
It didn’t happen. What did happen a week later was that this same Human Rights Council mustered all due gravity to pass no fewer than five resolutions condemning Israel and establishing an international “fact-finding mission” to investigate the “implications of Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem".
The unashamedly one-sided resolution failed to mention terrorism, ongoing incitement to hatred and to terrorism in the naming of Palestinian schools after suicide bombers or rocket fire targeting civilians. It passed 36-1 with 10 abstentions and included among its sponsors Iran and Syria – the latter having slaughtered 10,000 of its own citizens in current months. As with the Goldstone Report after the Gaza War - also a Human Rights Council “inquiry” - Israel was deemed guilty at the outset by virtue of its terms of reference.
It is tragic that the world’s putative parliament of states, the U.N., is singularly unable to mount even a semblance of protecting, let alone advancing, human rights. It is a victory for the human rights abusers who have wrested control of the Human Rights Council, with membership determined by distributing seats among five regional groups, with the African and Asian groups compromising the majority. Members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference hold the majority within each of the African and Asian groups, giving it the balance of power, and Israel is the only one of the 193 U.N. members excluded from a regional group.
Given these numbers, it is no coincidence that the Human Rights Council has passed more resolutions against Israel than against all other 192 members combined, has a permanent agenda item dedicated to criticising Israel and has commissioned 30 reports condemning Israel, compared with five on Syria, three on Iran and none on Saudi Arabia, China or the genocidal charter of Hamas – whose envoy, Ismail al-Ashqar, was welcomed by the Human Rights Council to the Palais des Nations in Geneva two weeks ago
It is a sorry commentary on some of the world’s democracies – even if they comprise a minority at the U.N. – which seemingly allows vested interests to get in the way of righting a moral inversion and an egregious wrong.