Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mary Robinson: I smoked but I didn't inhale

Yes the War on Mary's Presidential Medal of Freedom seems like another manufactured "outrage" situation. But she doesn't do herself any favours in Thursday's Irish Times --

Aipac said in a statement that Mrs Robinson, who was UN high commissioner for human rights from 1997 to 2002, had mismanaged the Durban conference, prompting the US and Israel to walk out in protest against anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist statements. “I wish that I could have done more but I did everything in my power,” Mrs Robinson said of the conference yesterday.

The conference was run by the member states, particularly by South Africa as the chair. So all key meetings and all decisions at the official level were made by governments and I wasn’t present when they were arguing about whether anti-Semitic language which was in brackets should be included. I just wasn’t there. But I did finally, after the United States and Israel had withdrawn, persuade South Africa to take this language out immediately and to continue with the conference. And that is what happened. So the formal Durban declaration is without any anti-Semitic language of any kind and it was welcomed by Shimon Peres when it was made known on 8th September 2001.”

She's correct in her final point. Israel did not complain about the final declaration and Shimon Peres welcomed it. But she was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when the UN was holding a human rights conference. Blaming the South Africans and claiming to be out of the loop when the bad stuff was happening is lame. If she just stuck to the line that elements of Durban I (especially the non-official NGO conference) were a circus, but the final declaration was fine, she'd be on solid ground, and she could accuse her US critics of being more hardline than Israel about Israel.

Instead there's an implicit swipe at Thabo Mbeki and excuses. Speaking of Thabo Mbeki, there's a South African joke -- you can't spell Thabo without Botha. But that's for another day.

UPDATE: Michael Rubin chimes in. He had been the source for the preposterous charge that Mary Robinson was responsible for the European Union's aid budget when she was President of Ireland. More generally, he thought there was a case that she was a war criminal. He now says that was "tongue-in-cheek" but levels a new charge --

The biggest issue for me, however, hanging over Robinson’s selection is her stewardship of the UN Human Rights Commission in 2002. At the April 2002 session, the commission voted (and passed) a resolution endorsing “all available means, including armed struggle” to establish a Palestinian state. Put aside whatever one thinks about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. International law bases itself on precedent, and the UN Human Rights Commission chose specifically not to exempt suicide bombing—a plague of which had erupted in 2001–2002—from “all available means.” While the question on Robinson’s agenda may have involved Israel and Palestine, the answer was just as relevant to Sri Lanka, Great Britain, Pakistan, and Lebanon. This is why Canada, Britain, and Germany voted against the measure. Basically, under Robinson’s stewardship, the commission decided to recognize the murder of non-combatant men, women, and children on buses and in cafes as legal.

This is basic misunderstanding of the relationship between the UN as an institution and the various commissions that its work has spawned. Mary Robinson's office was the secretariat to the commission i.e. it provided the functional support so that the commission could do its work. But the actual resolutions were the work of the member countries. And this was in the period when the commission was essentially putting itself out of business as its dubious membership and political stunts became ever clearer. As a result of which, the commission doesn't exist any more.

FINAL UPDATE: Charles Lane in the Washington Post online with a more measured case against Robinson's model, essentially focused on her lack of qualifications for the fairly bland requirements of the medal. Note this focus on her attempt to blame Durban I on the South Africans.

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