May 9, 2011
by Anne Bayefsky
The response to the death of Osama bin Laden by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and two “experts” appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council ought to be ringing a lot of alarm bells right now.
Just last month, Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations told Congress that “when we meet our financial obligations to the U.N., we make Americans safer.”
On the contrary, U.N. reaction to Bin Laden’s death indicates that the Obama administration’s warm embrace of the organization is endangering American lives.
The U.N.’s top human rights official took time this past week to concern herself about the treatment Bin Laden received as he was killed. She demanded to know “the precise facts surrounding his killing” for the purpose of determining its legality. According to Pillay, “counter-terrorism activity…in compliance with international law” means “you’re not allowed…to commit extra-judicial killings.” And this requirement would only be satisfied if the Americans had stuck by what she claimed was their “stated…intention…to arrest bin Laden if they could.”
On Friday, two professors and part-time U.N. “experts,” Christof Heyns and Martin Scheinin, issued a joint statement on Bin Laden’s killing. The two academics claimed that “the norm should be that terrorists be dealt with as criminals, through legal processes of arrest, trial and judicially-decided punishment.” They also insisted that the U.N. was entitled to receive “more facts” “to allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards.” Those standards would be violated, they claimed, unless “the planning of the mission allowed an effort to capture Bin Laden.”
The suggestion from these two U.N. authority-figures that America is criminally at fault for killing Bin Laden if their terms have not been satisfied is both offensive and legally false.
Under the laws of war, combatants are a “legitimate” target for attack. A protocol to the Geneva Conventions defines a legitimate military target as one “which…makes an effective contribution to military action and whose…destruction…offers a definite military advantage.” This description fits Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden’s killing was, therefore, a justifiable homicide and incurs no liability. There was no necessity that the Navy SEALs must have intended to arrest him or make an effort to capture him alive.
In the minds of those at the U.N, however, the life-and-death struggle to defend freedom from Islamic terrorists is occurring in a vacuum. They insist that the applicable legal regime is international human rights law which considers the single individual and prohibits the arbitrary deprivation of life, requires due process and condemns anything else as “extrajudicial” killing. Their response to the laws of warfare is: “what war?”
So here we are. The world’s most wanted terrorist is finally dead and U.N. actors are questioning his death in the name of human rights.
Scheinin’s full U.N. job title is self-explanatory. He is the “rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.” Promoting human rights is one side of the ledger and countering terrorism is allegedly on the other side.
Finding the United Nations on the opposite side from the effort by democracies to protect human rights in the real world is not an isolated phenomenon.
The United Nations still has no definition of terrorism. Standing in the way of a universally-agreed definition are the 22 members of the Arab League and the 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Each of these groups has signed on to an “anti-terrorism” treaty that represents the culmination of their agreed ideology on the subject. The Arab Terrorism Convention, for example, exempts from its idea of terrorism everything from suicide-bombing to slitting the throats of 3-month old babies under the umbrella of “all cases of struggle by whatever means…against foreign occupation and aggression for liberation and self-determination.”
As a result, on May 2, 2011 the Security Council issued a unanimous presidential statement on Bin Laden’s death which was very careful to “reaffirm…other applicable international counter-terrorism instruments.” After all, Council members currently include a representative of a terrorist organization, since Lebanon’s government is controlled by Hezbollah.
The U.N.’s post-9/11 counter-terrorism centerpiece is its “Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy”, adopted by the General Assembly in 2006. Its very first section is a promise “to undertake…measures aimed at addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.” More specifically, the U.N. worried first and foremost about “youth unemployment, …marginalization and the subsequent sense of victimization” of terrorist wannabes.
Consequently, the Security Council presidential statement on Bin Laden’s death immediately changed the subject from his demise to demanding the world “address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism.” And they weren't talking about hate, intolerance, antisemitism, and just plain evil acts.
Of course, Bin Laden, himself puts the lie to this diplomatic claptrap since the world’s number one terrorist was a man of wealth from a privileged background.
U.N. double-talk on terrorism has reached a new low with the grotesque suggestion that the killing of Osama bin Laden violated his human rights. And handing the U.N. more than 6 billion dollars of taxpayer money each year, leaves Americans far less safe.
Anne Bayefsky is no longer a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute.
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