Western Anger as China, Russia Elected to UN Human Rights Council and Saudi Arabia Rejected

By Alan Macleod

Source

The rejection of Saudi Arabia, the only country that did not receive the required number of votes from UN member states, has been seen as a repudiation of the Kingdom’s decreasing international support.

In a secret ballot at the United Nations yesterday, Saudi Arabia was rejected for a position on the body’s 47-country Human Rights Council (HRC). The only country that did not receive the required number of votes from member states, the failure has been seen as a repudiation of the Kingdom’s abysmal human rights record and its decreasing international support.

15 positions were filled yesterday, although most of them were pre-selected. Only the Asia-Pacific region faced an open vote from UN member states. Pakistan received 169 “yes” votes out of a possible 193, Uzbekistan 164, Nepal 150, and China 139. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, received just 90.

Saudi Arabia’s allies in the West had actually been campaigning to halt the election of states that draw Washington’s ire, including China, Russia, and Cuba, trying to organize opposition against those nations, but were ultimately unsuccessful. China received 41 fewer votes than it did in 2016, amid increased global concern over the alleged treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Province, but ultimately comfortably surpassed the 50 percent threshold for admission.

U.N. Watch, a western NGO that has a history of attacking Washington’s enemies and has condemned the UN for its supposed antisemitic bias over its criticism of Israeli human rights abuses, claimed that “electing these dictatorships as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade.”

The reaction from the U.S. government, which left the HRC in 2018 over its perceived bias against Israel, was similarly angry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement claiming that the election of countries like China, Russia, Cuba (and Venezuela in 2019) has shown that the institution is now broken beyond repair.https://cdn.iframe.ly/qY2oDPd?iframe=card-small&v=1&app=1

“The United States’ commitment to human rights consists of far more than just words,” Pompeo said, as he boasted of employing sanctions against all those nations. “Our commitments are spelled out clearly in the UN’s Declaration, and in our record of action. The United States is a force for good in the world, and always will be,” he added. Yet earlier this year Pompeo himself said that the U.S. should abandon most of the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration and focus only on property rights and religious freedoms.

The spin war

Much of the media today has been in a furor that the “world’s worst abusers” (The Times) like China, Russia, and Cuba are set to join or rejoin the council. The Guardian suggested that the institution’s credibility is at stake. Yet in the talk of human rights violators joining the council, the election of other states with questionable records was never discussed. Bolivia, whose murderous far-right government came to power in a U.S.-backed military coup in November, was also elected, but with no fanfare or condemnation. As was Cameroon, whose dictatorial head of state Paul Biya has been in charge of the country since Gerald Ford was president of the United States. Other states with contentious records included were Narendra Modi’s India, Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, and the Qatari dictatorship.

Both the Guardian, left, and the Times, right, failed to report on other human rights violators being elected to the council

Saudi Arabia was elected twice to the HRC between 2014-2016 and 2017-2019. Its new failure to secure more than 90 votes is a sign of increasing discontent with its policies in Yemen, declared the world’s worst humanitarian disaster by the United Nations, where 24 million people (80 percent of the country) need some form of humanitarian assistance. Yet under pressure from the U.S. government, aid has been cut to just 25 cents per person, per day. The kingdom has played a key role in stymying any international action to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe, using its position at the HRC to block UN inquiries into its own abuses in Yemen.

Internally, the country is often described as the most repressive regime on the planet, with millions of people suffering under slave-like conditions, according to Human Rights Watch. While on the council, it attempted to block a resolution that condemned the use of torture by law enforcement and reaffirms the human rights of LGBT people. Inside Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is still punishable with the death penalty.

Ultimately, while yesterday’s election is the sign of a slightly more multipolar world, the results are unlikely to seriously change the direction of the organization, with the United Nations constantly blocked from taking action unless all of the world’s superpowers allow it.

China’s Covid-19 Reporting Is Truthful, Birx and Trump Demonstrate-Unwittingly

By John V. Walsh

Source

 

At President Trump’s April 18 press briefing on the Covid-19 Pandemic, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the US response to the outbreak, criticized China’s reports on the Covid-19 data.  

She did so by showing a chart with data from the following countries.  (I have updated the chart with data[1] from the New York Times of April 19, but the two data sets differ by only a small and negligible amount.)

Mortality, Deaths per 100,000 population

  • Belgium: 49.8
  • Spain: 43.8
  • Italy: 39.2
  • France: 29.4
  • UK: 24.2
  • Netherlands: 21.4
  • USA: 10.9
  • Iran: 6.3
  • Germany: 5.2
  • China: 0.3

Dr. Birx called China’s low number “unrealistic,” saying, “I put China on there so you could see how basically unrealistic this could be.”  That was after President Trump pointed at China’s number and interrupted Birx to ask rhetorically, “Excuse me. Does anybody really believe this number? Does anybody really believe this number?”  (Transcript here; see minute 37:08 and following.)

The argument that Blix and Trump were making was clear.  China’s number was way out of line with the others, lower by more than a factor of 10.  Therefore, China’s report was a lie.

But in her chart Dr. Birx omitted data coming from countries of East Asia and nearby which have been praised by the US media for their performance and whose data are unquestioned in the West.  Here are some relevant omitted data, taken again from the New York Times of April 19, with China included again for comparison

Deaths per 100,000 population

  • South Korea: 0.5
  • Japan: 0.5
  • Australia: 0.3
  • China: 0.3
  • Singapore: 0.2
  • Taiwan: <0.1
  • Hong Kong: <0.1

China’s number falls right into line with that of neighboring countries!  Birx’s exercise in fact is a classic example of lying by omission, a half truth being a full lie.

Either Dr. Birx was aware of this data and dishonestly withheld it, or she was not aware of it and she is incompetent.  Neither conclusion is very comforting.  Trump is to be criticized both for his jumping in to bash China and for tolerating someone like Birx with the direction of the government’s response to the pandemic.

These data make it quite clear that countries of East Asia and Australia have performed better than the US and Europe.  Why is this?  Two categories of explanation suggest themselves.  First different strains of the virus may differ in lethality. There is no proof for this, but there is some suggestion of it in laboratory tests.

A second reason for the better performance of East Asian countries and Australia is that they paid attention to what China was doing, perhaps because they are neighbors and better informed of what was going on in China.  Much news about China is simply not reported by the mainstream media in the US and among US “allies.”  In this case, however, concern about a developing pandemic right next door may have lofted news from China over information blockade.  These countries may have seen that China had accumulated considerable experience with the virus and at great cost in life and suffering was having success in stopping its spread.  As a result, they followed what China did in many respects.

But no matter the reason, China’s data fall right in line with many of its neighbors. That is the main point. The bottom line is that these data provide us with no reason to doubt China’s reporting. And the correspondence between the data China released and other regional data is consistent with the fact that China reported Covid-19 deaths accurately.

Since so much attention is devoted to fact checking Trump’s press conferences, I thought surely the press would have picked up on this obvious manipulation of data.  I checked on the fact check of the press conference by CNN, no friend of the Trump administration, and there was no mention of this lie by omission.  Next, I checked PBS, a pillar of probity and respectability and also no friend of Trump.  PBS does a brief online look at each press conference with anchor Hari Sreenivasan and Zachary Green.  They showed Birx’s chart and noted Trump’s comments but made no criticism of the omitted data.  A check of the NYT, another arch-foe of Trump, on the following day disclosed no mention of the Birx-Trump deceit.

How can this be explained?  One cannot help but feel that the idea of Chinese malfeasance in all things has become so deeply embedded in the body politic that to challenge charges made against China is now beyond the pale.  No charge, no matter how unfounded or contrary to actual fact, is too brazen to report without a moment’s consideration.  In fact, to tell the truth in such a situation may damage the career of a rising journalistic “star.”

Why are we to be concerned about this matter? Because China’s experience has had much to teach us.  And since China is now emerging from the recession caused by the pandemic, it may have more to teach us as we move to economic recovery.  For example, to get back to normalcy, China has now rolled out large scale testing on a territory roughly the size of the US.  How is that working and how might it be improved?  To ignore China’s experience without careful evaluation at a time like this could well end up as a self-destructive act.

But there is an even bigger danger here.  There has been a growing antagonism between China and the US since Obama’s ill-advised “Pivot” against China followed by Trump’s equally ill-advised trade war.  Now we find Trump and Biden competing to be the number one China basher.  The press conference of April 18 falls into this pattern, allowing Trump to parade as tough on China and escape from a thrashing by a China-hostile media for his earlier praise of Xi and China for their response to Covid-19. To take the route of hostility to China can lead to a clash between two economic giants and nuclear powers, which could lead to a disaster for all humanity.  As Henry Kissinger reminded us some time back, armed conflict between the two giants could bring the same level of devastation to all the world that WWI brought to Europe.  And that is likely to be an underestimate. Let us step back from this path before it is too late.

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