You should probably sit down before you read this.
Yes, Syria, the state that has slaughtered close to 15,000 of its own people over the last 16 months, including hundreds of women and children. It's on track to take a seat on the United Nations body whose mission is to uphold human rights around the world.
The United States happened to find Syria's name on a roster of candidates. The election isn't until next year. But the U.S. delegation understandably raised the alarm just now, saying "that the current Syrian government's announced candidacy" for the council "fails to meet the standards for membership" as set forth in the council's founding documents. They deny membership to any state "that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights."
But under the U.N. system, regions provide fixed slates of candidates "behind closed doors," Hillel Neuer, director of the NGO UN Watch, told me. "These countries all get elected." That means Syria, easily the world's worst human-rights violator right now, is "virtually assured of victory."
If you want to know what that means, consider Syrian representative Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui's speech to the council July 2. He said nothing about his own country's genocidal travesties and instead gave an impassioned harangue about Israel's practice of uprooting trees in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, captured during the 1967 Middle East war.
Unfortunately, bad actors often find their way onto the Human Rights Council. Right now, Cuba, China, Angola, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia all sit there. In the recent past, Pakistan and Libya have been members. But none of them is behaving like a junior-league Pol Pot. Even the North Korean people, the world's second most abused right now, suffer largely from serious government neglect, not active massacres.
That's the problem with using the U.N. to address human-rights problems. Every single state in the world, even the most reprehensible, is an equal member. The United Nations charter, signed 67 years ago, enshrines as a world principle "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person" and "equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small."
But every nation that ignores those ideals still has an equal vote in the U.N. General Assembly. A couple of them, China and Russia, actually sit on the Security Council. And on the Human Rights Council, the bad actors often hold sway. There's no better example than the vote last week to approve for consideration a draft declaration called the "Right to Peace."
Peace. Sounds nice, doesn't it? And a good part of the document does offer laudable, flowery language that few would dispute -- except for the very governments that endorsed it, including Sudan, Belarus, China, Sri Lanka, Iran, North Korea and, of course, Syria. Can you imagine any of those states following this particular doctrine they endorsed: "All states shall promote" the "respect for the principles enshrined in the Charter and the promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms" including "the right of peoples to self-determination."
Well, the authors apparently hope this pointless blather will beguile you so you won't notice on page six that they also want the U.N. to endorse the idea that "all peoples and individuals have the right to resist and oppose oppressive colonial, foreign occupation." Neuer of UN Watch took that to mean that the authors want the U.N. to legitimize "the terminology used by Middle East extremists."
On July 6, the commission passed the draft resolution, sending it on for further study, by a vote of 34 to 1. A dozen Western states abstained. Only the United States voted "no" and issued an explanation saying its "vote against this resolution is not a vote against peace but rather a vote against continuing an exercise fraught with divisions that make no meaningful contribution to peace on the ground."
Well, with a vote of 34 to 1, the odds are pretty good that, eventually, this proposal will be enacted -- proving that the Human Rights Council is simply a travesty and will always be so. Early in its term, the Obama administration appointed a member for the first time in many years, hoping that a U.S. presence might bring a moderating influence.
Obviously that hasn't worked. The council is irredeemable. It's time the U.S. dropped out and gave the council the attention it deserves: none at all.
Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times.