For decades, serving as a representative for a number of different non-governmental organizations, the British historian David Littman regularly made a noble nuisance of himself before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights Commission, and later the Human Rights Council, in Geneva. His purpose was always the same: to do what little he could to touch the conscience of this at once tragically and farcically wayward agency, to remind it of its own official raison d’être, and to use his bully pulpit to draw the attention of the world to horrific circumstances upon which the Commission, later the Council, refused, for one reason or other, to act. In firm but civilized words, he spoke up, for instance, against the persistence in certain societies of the Jewish blood libel, documented certain societies’ violence against women, and condemned certain societies’ treatment of Christians.
Since the certain societies in question were, more often than not, Islamic ones, Littman routinely ran into trouble with the U.N.’s Muslim mafia. When he pointed out that the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights gave sharia precedence over what he considered universal human rights, he was sharply rebuked and instructed that the “issue of religion” should be raised only with the greatest of “sensitivity.” He wasn’t having it: “certain religious beliefs threaten the universal values of human rights,” he insisted, and went on to lament the “growing phenomenon of cultural relativism” that was making it harder and harder to honestly address a whole host of human-rights issues in a forum that had been founded, after all, to do precisely that.
Littman died on May 20 at age 78. He left a devoted wife, Gisèle, also a historian, and also a fearless, long-time defender of human rights, who is known professionally as Bat Ye’or. He also left an organization, the Human Rights Council, which, with Littman’s passing, lost a formidable and eloquent challenger to its grotesque miscarriage of its duties. And the unfortunate fact is that there is no organization on earth that, given the scale and nature of its putative responsibilities, needs such a challenge. It will be recalled that the reason why the Commission, founded in 1946, was disbanded in 2006 and replaced with the Council was that it had become a farce: its members included major human-rights offenders like Sudan, and it repeatedly found excuses to condemn Israel for relatively minor infractions while systematically ignoring large-scale, truly barbaric violations by Muslim states. The Council was supposed to correct all that; in reality it simply became the Commission under another name. So pointless – indeed, counterproductive – was its existence that the U.S., under George W. Bush, chose to have nothing to do with it, although that decision was reversed under President Obama.
I was reminded of Littman the other day when I watched a video of Thor Halvorssen, founder and president of the Human Rights Foundation, addressing that selfsame Human Rights Council on June 28.
Halvorssen was there in connection with the “Stop Chavez” campaign by UN Watch, an organization with which Littman was long associated. Briefly put, Venezuela wants a seat on the Human Rights Council, and UN Watch is one of several human-rights groups that, quite rightly, consider this an outrage. One of those groups is Human Rights Foundation. Halvorssen, who is Venezuelan by birth, came out fighting, spelling out Chavez’s offenses succinctly and firmly: “In Venezuela, exercising free speech is fraught with risks. Political dissent is criminalized. Property is capriciously and unlawfully seized. Opposition politicians are disqualified from elections thanks to false accusations. Journalists are harassed and media critical of the government is simply shut down. Judges are fired and even sent to prison when the president dislikes their rulings.”
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