THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL AND ITS MORAL RELATIVISM
Manfred Gerstenfeld and Jamie Berk
Moral relativism is a key tool used to undermine human values. This destructive approach may be defined as “moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint – -for instance, that of a culture or a historical period — and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others…. It relies the insistence that we should refrain from passing moral judgments on beliefs and practices characteristic of cultures other than our own.”1
Many use moral relativism to accuse Israel of alleged “crimes”. Nations often do so while whitewashing their own behavior which is often similar in nature to their accusations against Israel, or even far worse. They frequently also ignore or justify elements of the huge criminality inherent in large parts of the Muslim world. This may include racial and other discrimination, extreme abuse of women, including honor killings, as well as slavery, incitement and major other violence, including mass murders.
Once one accepts the principle of moral relativism as legitimate, one is on the road to structurally undermining democracy and core human values. The application of double standards is a broader notion than that of moral relativism. The latter has a strong focus on values, which double standards do not necessarily have.2
Moral relativists justify immoral practices. Such justifications can lead to extreme implementations of moral relativism, such as equating the values of the Nazis with those of the Allies, indirectly justifying the Holocaust.
The centerpiece within international law which was established to counter moral relativism is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted in December 1948. The primary impetus for drafting the UDHR was to provide universal legal norms that did not exist during the horrors of Nazi rule. The UDHR was also intended to prevent a second Holocaust from occurring by declaring extreme abuses of values, such as those perpetrated by the Nazis, globally unacceptable.3
An overwhelming majority of the UN member nations voted in favor of adopting the UDHR. Eight nations abstained and none voted against it.4
The first article of the UDHR proclaims, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” This is equal to saying that all individuals are equally responsible for their acts.5 The UDHR was made into binding international law in 1976 and agreeing to uphold its statutes serves as a prerequisite for nations to enter into the UN.6
Despite this the United Nations and its various affiliated agencies provide major examples of moral relativism. This is in particular true as far as UN positions regarding Israel are concerned. UN delegates and agencies often choose to blatantly ignore the values of equality proclaimed by the UDHR in their stance on Israel.
One of several UN agencies where one can easily see the regular abuse of moral relativism is the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In 2006, this body succeeded the UN Commission on Human Rights. The extreme perversion of values taking place in such international bodies, for the most part, often results from the stances taken by various Muslim states, which are then also supported by others. In view of the multitude of examples from the UNHRC which are readily available, an essay is required to do justice to this subject. In this context, however, one recent example may serve to illustrate the issue.
In the summer of 2014, the UNHRC held a debate on the “Occupied Arab Territories.” This session included a heartfelt plea by Rachel Frankel, the mother of Eyal, one of the Israeli boys who was kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists. The session was largely used, however, to blame Israel for “occupying” Palestine.
The representatives of other nations that hold, have held, are at war or have warred over disputed territory were in attendance and criticized Israel. Ethiopia declared that Israel was guilty of occupation.7 Yet after this statement, no UNHRC members mentioned the 1998-2000 Ethiopian-Eritrean war, where an estimated 70,000-120,000 civilians and soldiers were killed. This war was started because of Ethiopia’s occupation of the Eritrean Badame region.8
Russia also spoke of the “indivisibility” of Palestinian territory,9 yet it is currently involved in numerous territorial disputes, including with UN member states Japan,10 Ukraine,11 and Georgia.12 Morocco and Algeria, who have both occupied the disputed Western Sahara region for the last forty-five years, gave statements condemning Israel for its occupation of the Palestinian territories.13 14
Although there has been a far larger death count from the territorial disputes and occupations maintained by these nations, Israel’s actions were deemed intolerable according to these moral relativists. During rebuttals, there was no mention of the territorial disputes of these nations who hypocritically attacked Israel, except for an argument between the Moroccan and Algerian representatives over who really had claim to Western Sahara.15
To these and other UNHRC member nations, Israel is morally corrupt in its mistakenly called “occupation of Palestine,” – which are disputed and not occupied areas — whereas their own illegal occupations of territory can be overlooked for the sake of condemning Israel.
Overall, the sheer volume of resolutions against Israel in the UNHRC is a major indicator of its extreme moral relativism. There have been more UNHRC resolutions against Israel than against all other 191 countries in the world combined.16
Although the UN charter claims that it advocates for “the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity,” much like the United Nations General Assembly, this Muslim-dominated body does little to stop the worst abuses within the Muslim world. Principles of universality were challenged by the UNHRC in 2008 when the mandate of freedom of expression, one of the tenants of the UDHR, was overturned by the Muslim-dominated Council. Now, anyone who “abuses” this freedom, or “dare say something deemed offensive to Islamic sensitivities” must be reported to the Council.17
Many more examples of extreme moral relativism can be brought, not only from the UNHRC, but from other UN agencies such as UNESCO and the UNRWA as well as the United Nations itself.
1 “Moral Relativism”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy- University of Tennessee.
2 Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Double Standards for Israel,” Journal for the Study of Antisemitism 4, 2 (2012): 613-638.
3 Amy Eckert, “Universality by Consensus: The Evolution of Universality in the Drafting of the UDHR,” University of Denver, 2001, pp 22-23.
4 John Kenton, “Human Rights Declaration Adopted by U. N. Assembly,” The New York Times, 10 December 1948.
5 “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” United Nations.
6 “The Foundation of International Human Rights Law,” United Nations.
7 “Human Rights Council Holds General Debates on Occupied Arab Territories and on Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,” UNOG- The United Nations Office at Geneva, 24 June 2014.
8 “Ethiopia-Eritrea (1998 – first combat deaths),” U.S. Department of Justice, February 2002.
9 “Human Rights Council Holds General Debates on Occupied Arab Territories and on Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,” UNOG- The United Nations Office at Geneva, 24 June 2014.
10 “Kuril islands dispute between Russia and Japan,” BBC, 29 April 2013.
11 Michael Birnbaum and Karoun Demirjian, “A year after Crimean annexation, threat of conflict remains,” The Washington Post, 18 March 2015.
12 George Mchedlishvili, “Putin Slyly Redraws Georgia’s Borders,” Newsweek, 21 July 2015.
13 “Western Sahara Profile,” BBC, 7 January 2014.
14 “Human Rights Council Holds General Debates on Occupied Arab Territories and on Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,” UNOG- The United Nations Office at Geneva, 24 June 2014.
16 Ido Aharoni, “How the United Nations Human Rights Council Unfairly Targets Israel,” Time, 30 July 2014.
17 “Human Rights Council,” UN Watch.