The UN Human Rights Council Does Investigate Places Other Than Israel….Like New York

by Julian Ku

Raquel Rolnki

Raquel Rolnik

In a further display of the UN Human Rights Council’s sense of how to efficiently allocate its limited resources, its “special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing” has decided to conduct her next investigation in the United States, and in New York City in particular.  (h/t the Corner). I’m sure that New York housing is inadequate in some ways, but is it really the most effective place to allocate the special rapporteur’s efforts?

There’s also a strange legal problem: what is the legal obligation the United States is said to be violating?  Here is an excerpt of the original Council (then Commission) resolution creating the special rapporteur’s mandate.

To appoint, for a period of three years, a special rapporteur whose mandate will focus on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, as reflected in article 25, paragraph 1, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and article 27, paragraph 3, of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and on the right to non-discrimination as reflected in article 14, paragraph 2 (h) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and article 5 (e) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination;

Uh, the U.S. is not party to any of the treaties mentioned here, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, art. 25, para. 1 has never been considered binding.  So to sum up:  the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on adequate housing is going to spend her time on a country which is unlikely to be in the top ten places with lack of adequate housing, and which in any event, is not a party to any of the treaties which form her mandate.  And people wonder why the UN Human Rights Council is unpopular?

10 Responses

  1. How about the recent investigation of Canada by the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues ( for its “significant and persistent problems” among minority communities, who feel their needs “have not been adequately responded to by government and to which solutions of long-term nature have not been found”?
    Her report is to be presented to the HRC in March.

  2. Meanwhile, in possible payback for Canada’s being the first of 10 countries to decline participation in last year’s ill-fated Durban II parley, the UN’s chief monitor on discrimination against minorities, Gay McDougall, just wrapped up a 10-day visit to Canada, where she found alleged violations and “significant and persistent problems.”

    While it’s fair game to hold Canada accountable for all its minority issues that need improvement, the reality is that immigrants of every color and creed rightly seek it out as a haven. UN Watch launched a protest against McDougall’s skewed set of priorities: alllocating her scarce annual trips to countries like Canada, while consistently turning a blind eye to the world’s worst abusers. Our action sparked more than a dozen news articles, columns, and editorials across Canada — including in the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, and National Post, as featured below. It’s a powerful piece that is worth reading.
    The wrong target

    The National Post (Canada), Editorial Page, October 19, 2009

    Gay McDougall is like a cop obsessed with ticketing jaywalkers, while all around her murders, rapes and muggings are being committed on the street she patrols.

    The United Nations’ Independent Expert on minority issues has been on the job for four years. Much of that time she has spent investigating the way humane, pluralistic, industrialized democracies handle their racial and cultural minorities, while foregoing similar inspections of truly abusive regimes. At present, she is busy crisscrossing Canada for 10 days grilling government officials about possible racism in this country — as if this country’s situation were worth worrying about in a world beset by the likes of Iran, Congo and Guinea.  Read more

    Since Ms. McDougall is free to pick the countries she examines, we feel compelled to ask: Can she truly not think of a more deserving subject for her enquiry? Is there no better use of her time and those of the federal, provincial and local officials she will pester during her stay?

    Undoubtedly, scattered examples of minority maltreatment can be found in any country, if one looks hard enough and uses a loose enough definition of discrimination. In 2007, for instance, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination told Ottawa to stop using the term “visible minorities” on census forms and other government documents. The phrase, according to the committee, had the potential to be “racially insensitive,” and might lead to “direct or indirect” forms of discrimination based on skin colour.

    Oh, the humanity.

    While UN rights nabobs are obsessing over the bureaucratese found on our federal government’s forms, there is –as pointed out by Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch in Geneva — no one who “will speak for the two million black African migrants persecuted in Libya, the ethnic minorities oppressed in Tibet or the women subjugated in Saudi Arabia.”

    No doubt, political correctness is partly to blame for Ms. McDougall’s visit this month. Having, during her four years in office, examined Dominican Republic, Guyana, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan, she undoubtedly feels the need to balance those nations off with France, Greece, Hungary and now Canada so to avoid the impression she is picking only on developing nations.

    But what is truly missing from Ms. McDougall’s travel schedule is a trip to any of the world’s vilest regimes such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China, North Korea, Burma or Chad. Together, millions of people have been murdered by the 21 governments that Freedom House judges are the most repressive in the world, many simply for their minority status alone. Millions more have been imprisoned and tortured. Yet not one of these countries has been the subject of one of her inspections, nor are any scheduled to be.

    We cannot avoid the impression that Ms. McDougall and the UN human right apparatus as a whole are simply afraid to put truly repressive states under the microscope. Instead they justify their salaries and expense accounts by poring over the workings of liberal democracies for the teensiest infractions.

    According to the latest census (2006), more than 16% of Canadians identify themselves as visible minorities. In Markham, Ont., and Richmond, B.C., (65%), Brampton, Ont. (57%), Burnaby, B.C. (55%) and Vancouver (51%), they make up a majority of residents. In Toronto, they are almost a majority (47%). Do any of these places witness the pogroms, massacres or wholesale repression that are common in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia?

    The very question seems ridiculous. And yet here we are, subjecting ourselves to a tut-tutting UN official, as if we were a banana republic in need of advice from Turtle Bay.

    Ms. McDougall will undoubtedly find lots to reprimand regarding Canada’s handling of its First Peoples. Too many of our Aboriginals live in remote, squalid communities and in the poorest neighbourhoods of our largest cities. But as we have long argued, this is as much the fault of Canada’s overgenerous native welfare system and paternalist federal laws, both of which Aboriginals themselves resist changing.

    We hope the UN’s minority inspector enjoys her time here. (She is not venturing beyond the four-star hotels and salons of Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver.) But we urge her next time to pick a country truly in need of a rights rebuke.

    If she dares.

  3. The U.S. is certainly not exempt from human rights scrutiny but it seems a bit absurd for New York to be investigated for inadequate housing. The Human RIghts Council’s resources are certainly being wasted by appointing a rapporteur to investigate New York City’s housing market. The special rapporteur recently visited Maldives to focus on the impact of a tsunami on adequate housing. This seems to cut in favor of a visit to Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, rather than New York City.  In 2007, however, Canada (a country not synonymous with poor housing) received a visit from the adequate housing rapporteur, so perhaps its just time for the U.N. to check in with the U.S. It will be interesting to see a report by the special rapporteur that says NYC is too dense, too expensive, too inaccessible, etc.

  4. I can understand part of the reasoning behind scrutinising the US for human rights issues, with their universal nature, but surely there are more pressing issues on which to appoint a special rapporteur rather than the housing situation in NYC? Surely the housing situations in Africa, Bangladesh, Rio, Sau Paolo, Indonesia etc are more serious, and deserving of more international attention and efforts? I can’t see anything good which will come of this.

  5. Let us not forget the Human Rights Council’s admonishment to Britain in 2008 that it should “consider holding a referendum on the desirability or otherwise of a written constitution, preferably republican”.  A referendum on the monarchy in Britain?  The HRC at the time included, among its monarchs, quite apart from its uncrowned despots, Saudi Arabia.  The proposal came about at the behest of the envoy from Sri Lanka whose government was, at that moment, busy artillery-barraging the Tamil Tiger conflict to a close.  It’s a wicked institution and the United States shames itself by being there.

  6. Contrary to the assertion made in the Daily Telegraph article cited above, the United Nations Human Rights Council did not last year tell the United Kingdom to “get rid of the monarchy”. That proposition was made by a single State – Sri Lanka – and not the UN body.

    The UPR for the United Kingdom contains the disclaimer that:
    All conclusions and/or recommendations contained in this report reflect the position of the submitting State(s) and/or the State under review thereon. They should not be construed as endorsed by the Working Group as a whole.
    UN Doc A/HRC/8/25, para. 58

    The UK responded to this specific Sri Lankan proposal by stating inter alia that:
    The United Kingdom believes that this recommendation falls outside the ambit of the Universal Periodic Review, which was developed to review States’ fulfilment of their obligations under international human rights treaties, universal human rights standards, and voluntary commitments on human rights.
    UN Doc A/HRC/8/25/Add.1, para. 5

    The Human Rights Council then adopted the following text:
    Adopts the outcome of the universal periodic review on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland which is constituted of the report of the Working Group on the review of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (A/HRC/8/25), together with the views of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning the recommendations and/or conclusions, as well as its voluntary commitments and its replies presented before the adoption of the outcome by the plenary to questions or issues that were not sufficiently addressed during the interactive dialogue in the Working Group (A/HRC/8/52, chap. VI and A/HRC/8/25/Add.1).

    The 2008 UPR for the UK contains some very important questions and points from some States. It also unfortunately contains the usual hypocritical contributions from others.

  7. The US is a party to the CERD, actually.

  8. The U.S. is a party to the CERD, actually.

  9. Is there really anyone who wonders why the UN Human Rights Council is unpopular?

    I agree with KA that any civilised nation shames itself by being there. Better just to abandon it entirely to the rogues and let it rot on the vine, if we can’t find the political strength to simply kill it.

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