The United Nations is bidding farewell to Richard Falk, its Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories. He may not have won the Gaddafi Prize for Human Rights, as his brother Rapporteur Jean Ziegler once did, but he nevertheless managed to discredit his employer even further, a task of not inconsiderable difficulty. Falk was a 9/11 conspiracy theorist before it was hip and a very early Khomeini groupie(though he later repented). His attitude towards Israel is so embarrassingly extreme that even the Palestinian Authority tried to get him fired. Now that he has finally retired, one wishes he will ease into a very silent retirement, though perhaps that is asking too much of him.
However, the departure of another resident lunatic from the UN hardly restores to the organization the respectability it so desperately craves. After all, North Korea and Iran sit on its disarmament conference; Mugabe of Zimbabwe serves as a "special tourism ambassador"; Saudi Arabia and Cuba are on the Human Rights Council. Iran and Syria are hoping to get elected to the body in May. The Council, not incidentally, is the body which elected Rapporteur Falk. Is anyone surprised?
Speaking of the Human Rights Council: it is due to begin the next round of its Universal Periodic Review this month. At these events, countries sit in judgment of other countries' human rights records. Of course, there is nothing that bars a country that doesn't have any human rights to begin with from condemning those who do. Hence, a few years ago, North Korea enjoined the United States to take "measures to end defamation of religion", a curious request from a state which regularly shoots its citizens for having religious beliefs. At least they did not go as far as Venezuela, which exhorted the U.S. to abolish slavery. The Islamic Republic of Iran, which still stones female adulterers, asked Slovenia to fight "gender-based violence in a comprehensive manner". And so on and on.
The same body produced a laudatory report about Libya's human rights record two months before Libyans rose up against Colonel Gaddafi. Highlights included Myanmar praising Libya "for its economic and social progress", Saudi Arabia commending it for "achievements in its constitutional, legislative and institutional frameworks", and Qatar congratulating it for "the protection of human rights and freedoms". If Kissinger's Nobel Prize did not render satire obsolete, as a certain wag used to say, the report surely did the trick.
In this upcoming Periodic Review session, North Korea will be judged by its peers. The last time it was subjected to the process, it failed to respond to 117 of the recommendations and rejected another 50 outright. In the end, the Council failed to extract a single answer from its representatives. In 2013, the Council grew some backbone and established a Commission to look at Pyongyang's human rights practices. The resulting report, authored by Australian judge Michael Kirby, revealed untold horror stories from the Hermit Kingdom. But North Korea's friends at the UN promptly declared they would veto the report, and the matter died then and there. Justice Kirby says he is convinced the Kims will be held accountable one day for their crimes: considering the UN's current impotence, one is hard pressed to imagine how.
But back to Rapporteur Falk. The UN, as it currently exists, is a Wonderland-esque institution run by an unholy alliance of third-rate dictatorships and theocracies. Therefore, it is not surprising that delusional men like him should receive a fair share of the body's high-level appointments. After the Boston Bombing, he blamedAmerica's friendship with Israel for the attack, and characterized the event as resistance from the post-colonial world against "the American global domination project". On his blog, he posts anti-Semitic cartoons and hints at global Jewish conspiracies. And this is the man to whom the UN has entrusted the task of reporting about one of the most sensitive topics in international relations of our times.
Falk's departure, while a welcome development to all those who value sanity, will not redeem the United Nations. Established to encourage "respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all", not only has it failed in this mission, but it has become a massive embarrassment for the international system. Falk's tenure is not the problem itself, but merely the symptom of the rot which has taken hold of the august body. Either it must fundamentally reform itself, or it will share the fate of the League of Nations.