Somehow before visiting and learning more about the United Nations, I thought that this institution should be an ultimate human rights defender, whose views are more or less objective and truthful, fighting the world’s biggest injustices. Many people react at a headline starting with “So the UN reported”, the same as if it was “And God spoke to Moses”. But unfortunately, it is au contraire. In the role of God Gadhafi who himself, held the Chair of the UN Human Rights Council until 2010.
I guess, whenever you have politics involved, you can’t be completely objective and devoted to truth anymore, even when it is concerning human lives and suffering. Even when it is too obvious, that Human Rights greatest violators sit at the round table of the UN and try all possible strategies so that their state’s crimes will not be revealed and condemned. Those are countries with mainly dictatorship regimes like China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Mauritania, Libya, Uganda, Benin, Costa Rica and so on…
Honestly speaking, I am one of those people who are no longer touched by campaigns promoting aid for hungry children in Somalia and such like. I grew colder to them after experiencing the tragic reality of those kinds of organizations, who raise funds for the people in Africa. I used to work for an organization where they paid 12 Euros an hour to stand and collect money for those kids suffering in Africa, and it would be better not to know how much the director and all the managers working there earned.
Until this year, when I had the opportunity to attend the 4th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, organized by the UN Watch, which is a NGO, monitoring the work of the UN and promoting human rights.
This summit started with the testimony from a victim of the Burmese army. This girl had to suffer a lot from the government only because she belongs to the Korean minority in Myanmar. She expressed her wishes for the international community to put pressure on the dictatorship which has ridiculously repressive laws.
A Vietnamese activist elaborated on how Vietnam pretends to be clean on the surface, but a terrible abuser in fact. And they are on the list applying to join the HRC which is, as he said “the same as a thief joining the police.”
There were further testimonies on North Korea’s despotic regime on the propaganda taught in schools, no trial for some prisoners; all political opponents are automatically declared as criminals.
A jailed Cuban pro-democracy activist called his country a state of oppression and barbarity. A country, where political activists are being assassinated, beaten to death, eliminated on demand, therefore, he said, there is no Perestroika, no Spring, no Orange revolution: “Cuba remains trapped, with its policy of state vandalism and no reforms.”
To me this did sound somewhat familiar, from all the movies and stories about the USSR I’ve seen and heard. I just never realized that this is still the reality nowadays in so many countries.
But the situation in Tibet is even worse because it is pure genocide. The Tibetan language is banned; spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama are not allowed to enter the region. Young Tibetans are setting themselves on fire in protest, with the hope that the world will hear about them and do something or intervene. But not only by sending humanitarian aid, as one of the activists declared we need the notion of humanitarian aid to become a notion of human rights.
An Egyptian peace activist talked about his imprisonment during the demonstrations in Cairo.
Another victim of the Iranian regime, abused for years in jail said that Islamic fundamentalists use radical propaganda against minorities, but a lot of young people in Teheran oppose it and there is hope. We witnessed that with the FB campaign “Iranians, we love you.” It is indeed a powerful, pacifist message, which would in fact never succeed in Pakistan.
Not only because of their most inhumane laws like for instance, the law of blasphemy (impiety, lack of respect towards Islam and Prophet Muhammad), whose first victims are Muslims themselves then Christians being second class citizens and to be a Jew or a Gay in Pakistan doesn’t even enter into people’s mind, it is the death penalty without a trial.
By the way, a curious story, my friend from there told me that Pepsi in Pakistan went bankrupt because Coca-cola agents may have spread a rumour that Pepsi is a Jewish company and its name is an abbreviation that stands for “Pay Every Penny to Save Israel”. Pepsi rapidly disappeared in this country.
The biggest problem with Pakistanis, as my friend says, is that once it’s deeply rooted in people’s minds it’s acted upon. Therefore innocent Pakistanis are easily manipulated by the religious leaders and even family elders where the concept of honor killings comes into play. One girl shared her story on how she was sentenced to death by her own parents after refusing to marry her handicapped cousin. She is one of the very few who managed to run away and escape. The author of the book Burned Alive was recovering in hospital after enduring 28 operations due to burns when her mother came with a phial of poison. I guess on Pakistani crimes there is a whole extra article needed. So let me stop here.
The summit hosted a Syrian regime’s victim as well, a 20 year old girl who was captured at an anti- government demonstration, jailed and abused while there. Her concluding words were: “Syria deserves living in peace with all its neighbors, including Israel.” In a private conversation a few days later, she told me that she had lost a lot of friends on Facebook, who condemned her for that last comment. But she doesn’t regret saying it, she said.
The question is, did her testimony at the UN in front of the Syrian ambassador, representing and defending his government, make any difference?
His Excellency, the Syrian Ambassador, pointed out at the 19th Session of UN HRC that while discussing what is happening in Syria, we ignore the bloodshed in Palestine. And here he actually summed up the strategy of the UN HRC. He made it clear and simple to see the obvious.
See, every country has some issues and problems, even on Iceland there was an hour or two session condemning human rights violations. But only those who have really big issues are those whose show time starts at Agenda Item 7. This is the day, when they all go until time is up, and using all possible metaphors to express that Israel is the one and only enemy that ever existed and it is the biggest violator of human rights and a big threat for world peace.
Now it is extraordinarily needful to point out that the HRC’s sessions have different agendas. For instance, Agenda Item 3 is “Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the rights of development”. Big topic, isn’t it? It includes all the violations of the entire world in these spheres . Item 4 is called “Human Rights Situations that Require the Council’s Attention”. Item 8 is “Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance, follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action”. And you remember who was blamed for racism in Durban. But item 7 is the only Agenda item which is devoted to one single country –Israel, called “Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other Occupied Arab territories”.
So this whole session reminded me of a Eurovision vote, where every country supports the statement of its neighbor. Only one country has no friends among its neighbors. After Syria and Egypt illustrated that innocent Palestinians are dying, however Denmark inserted, let’s not forget the rockets from the innocent fellows flying towards Israel. And everyone expressed their feelings towards the occupied Syrian Golans. I recently watched a video about the Syrian Golans. Mama-mia, it is indeed a beautiful place, a piece of paradise. No wonder why everyone mentions them with greed…
I was also introduced to a new term for me which was presented as another big crime against humanity – “the Judaization of Jerusalem”. And in this tone, it went on and on.
It was a black Monday for the Jewish people. At the same time while the 19th session of the UN HRC were condemning Israel on 19th March in Toulouse a shocking, terrifying murder was taking place.
Three days before it happened, our delegation from the EUJS (European Union of Jewish Students) visited the permanent mission of France in Geneva. Unfortunately his Excellency, the Ambassador himself didn’t have the time for our questions, however a friendly, cute press attaché welcomed us.
First thing we asked him was about the Burka Law. He replied that it is a law to stop discrimination against women. I wonder, if it is still called discrimination when the affected themselves want to imply it. I guess on both sides of a) religious and b) democracy rulers, are all men who simply didn’t learn that they should first ask women, what they actually want.
My question followed: many French Jews are leaving the country. The reason is aggressive anti-semitism, which is exercised too often lately by the Arab population of France. If we compare France with the UK for example which also has a big Arab population, we see the country protects or at least shows better support towards its Jewish community and Jews feel still safe there. Why is it different in France? Can it be the polluted French air from all the revolutions, which affects people to act in a more aggressive manner?!
The young Frenchman apologized that he is not able to answer my question and I quote his exact words: “I am sorry but I am not Jewish, I don’t know how the situation is with anti-Semitism.”
I am sure, on Monday, he already knew something about the situation. He thought he didn’t answer my question but in fact he did.
Is it that French people just don’t care so much about others?! Even if its not the majority, let’s not generalize, but when there’re people who represent France and this guy was young, he probably just graduated and now he’s on his way to make career at the French Permanent Mission to the UN, and doesn’t care about the situation of minorities in his own country.
It made me learn what it means to care about human rights which are not only regarding me. Because when I care about Jews and Israel, it is understandable why. When I care about the problems in Bulgaria or Belarus, it is also clear to me why as a citizen of these countries it bothers us. But when after the Human Rights Summit, I started to care about those who are really far from me and those to whom I have no connection whatsoever, it feels just right.
I am happy that I am able to care for others and that my religion is not making me insensitive to human sufferings and injustices but just au contraire.
And when I sit at the Passover Seder, I have many questions to ask, one of them is why this night is no different from all other nights? It’s because on this night, millions of human beings still remain enslaved, tortured and abused just as they do on all other nights. As we celebrate our freedom, we should not forget those who remain enslaved. I wish that all of us think about that. If we are able to care about others and abolish any form of hatred from this world, it will make a big difference.
picture by: Elichka Tariverdieva