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UN Watch Briefing

Analysis and Commentary from UN Watch in Geneva
Wednesday, 6 December 2000 — Issue 59

News: The High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has just issued a report on her 'fact-finding' mission to the Middle East, which was one-sided and unhelpful.

Analysis: People build institutions as an expression of underlying beliefs; in pursuit of efficiency; for durability; as repositories of knowledge. Consider, for example, the United Nations. The Charter creates a series of institutions that reflect mankind's greater purposes - the quest for peace, the eradication of disease and poverty, the protection of human rights.

Of course, with the UN made up of individual states, their interests do not always correspond to some of our more altruistic aspirations. Nevertheless, throughout the UN system, there are thousands of people toiling in service of the values and ideals upon which the UN was founded.

Institutions are also characterized by the fact that, at any given point, individual people must represent them and embody their values. This is a tremendous responsibility, for it calls upon human beings - with all their strengths and weaknesses - to reflect values and to serve something greater and more lasting than any one person can ever be. There is great nobility in this task, and few human endeavors are as humbling or as praiseworthy.

In 1993, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights was established, in large measure, as a coordination center. More subtly, it was also designed to voice human rights concerns worldwide.

However, the effectiveness of the Office as an institution is dependent upon the effectiveness of whoever occupies it at any given time. That person must, to ensure the legitimacy of the institution, act consistently with the standards we wish to see all future occupants demonstrate in all future instances. That is a Herculean task, but it is what is needed to ensure the viability and legitimacy of the institution.

Mrs. Robinson's report on her visit to the Middle East seems to suggest that she had reached her conclusions before stepping off the plane. She lamented Israeli actions without considering why they were taken, and she minimized the fact that Israel has been defending itself from armed attacks. While presuming that Israel was the aggressor, she dismissed its concerns one by one. This is not 'fact-finding,' it is 'fact-deciding.'
In our age, when human rights can be used as a sword as much as a shield, it is imperative that every office holder recognize the depth of his or her responsibility. In this case, regrettably, the office holder came up short.

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