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The Bolton Archipelago

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The Bolton Archipelago

Ian Williams
(The Nation 15 March 2006)

A complete American isolationist may congratulate the Bush
Administration and United Nations Ambassador John Bolton on his
grandstanding vote
Wednesday against the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council.
Nobody else would.

It was a clear case of prejudice masquerading as policy, with Bolton
playing to his usual gallery of Know-Nothings on one side, while also
relishing briefly being on the side of Human Rights NGOs and what he
considers to be the liberal /New York Times /in criticizing the failings
of the negotiated outcome. But taken as a poll on the Bolton-Bush stand,
170 votes to 4 epitomizes America's waning global prestige.

The three states that the United States led into the "nay" camp were
Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands, which are among the highest per
capita recipients of US cash in the world, along with the Federated
States of Micronesia, which even Bolton couldn't bully enough. The two
Pacific micro-states depend on the US Congress for almost their entire
budget. There is an additional irony: For decades the United States
stalled on allowing the former Trustee territory of Palau independence
until it dropped clauses in its constitution that barred the United
States from bringing in nuclear weapons to defend it.* .*

Similarly, Bolton was very reserved on the term limits for members, and
showed initially that he would have preferred a permanent seat for the
United States, even if it entailed one for China, hardly a paragon of
human rights.
While Bolton is particularly tin-eared in how he listens to other
countries, we should remember that it was the Clinton Administration
that worked assiduously and steadily to attenuate the International
Criminal Court, and then only signed the much-weakened instrument at the
very end of his presidency. It was this attitude that cost the United
States the seat in times past. There are far more substantial grounds on
which states of goodwill, in a secret ballot, may have scruples about
voting for this US Administration to have a seat on the council,
although *many may support Washington with LBJ's eminently pragmatic
argument that it is better to have opponents inside the tent urinating
outward rather than vice versa.
*The American diplomatic approach to human rights is, in its own way,
every bit as partisan and partial as some of the notorious human rights
offenders who have conspired to emasculate the Human Rights Commission
over the years.
Indeed, the best weapon of the Axis of Offenders in the old commission
has been the US attitude, which has, for example, condoned, trained and
financed some of the worst human rights offenders of the era in Central
America, while fulminating against Cuba's much less serious offenses.
Disagreement with the United States should not necessarily put a country
in the dock for human rights offenses--although neither should opposing
the United States allow an exemption.
Countries that are genuinely concerned about human rights need to eschew
their usual regional voting pacts, but we can be sure that the NGOs will
keep their feet to the fire. And as for the United States, it would be
good if it voted on the basis the State Department's own annual Human
Rights Report, which has managed to be critical even of allies.
Along with the "Responsibility to Protect"
<> resolution adopted last year, the
Human Rights Council is a step forward for the United Nations. But far
from being rewarded by Congress, watch out for attacks on the world's
temerity for disagreeing with Ambassador Bolton.

Ian Williams <>

+1 212 686 8884
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