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U.S. Leadership Needed as UN Human Rights Council Convenes

On March 3, 2014, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) convened in Geneva. The United States cannot be without an ambassador representing the interests of America and supporting our allies on important human rights issues. With the trio of Cuba, China, and Russia sitting on the Council, the United States must be fully prepared to provide active leadership on the many issues that will come before the UNHRC.

President Obama made a wise choice in nominating Keith Harper as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council. We need a strong and effective ambassador who can and will successfully shine the light on the truly bad actors and human rights-violators of the world while at the same time defending Israel from the biased attacks that regularly and inappropriately infect the UN system. ‎

Historically, the UNHRC possesses a shameful record of focusing on the wrong issues and ignoring those who strive to preserve human rights. Over the past many years, the UN Human Rights Council has maintained a deeply troubling and inequitable focus on America’s strongest ally, the State of Israel. To malign Israel, the most democratic and freedom loving nation in the Middle East, while thousands are being slaughtered in Syria, millions are starving in North Korea, and thousands are suffering in the Islamic Republic of Iran, is unconscionable. ‎

Keith Harper, a noted advocate for Native American and human rights, will be a light piercing through the darkness at the UN. Having known Mr. Harper for many years, I witnessed his dedication to principle first-hand when I served as Head of Delegation to the UN Conference Against Racism (“Durban Conference”). As the conference disintegrated into an anti-Semitic “hatefest,” the delegation of Jewish and other NGOs from the United States and throughout the world joined the U.S. and Israeli Ambassadors in walking out. In solidarity, Keith and the entire Leadership Conference of Civil Rights delegation also left the Durban Conference in protest. Years later, the American Jewish community remains most appreciative of Mr. Harper’s principled response to the situation on the ground in Durban.

Mr. Harper’s career successfully advocating on behalf of the rights of Native Americans and others demonstrates his dedication to protecting and promoting the human rights of all people. Importantly, as a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Mr. Harper would be the first member of a Federally recognized tribe to serve as a United States Ambassador. This year at the UN, there is a focus on indigenous persons. It would be most appropriate for the U.S. to have a respected Native American as our Ambassador to demonstrate our own commitment to the rights and respect of all persons.

The inverted morality that permeates the United Nations cannot be countenanced by the United States. Silence and absence is never acceptable. The President’s nomination of Keith Harper is pending confirmation by the United States Senate, and his swift confirmation is not only warranted but necessary, as it will ensure an immediate active and visible presence for Western values at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Richard D. Heideman is Senior Counsel of Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, P.C., the Washington, D.C. based international human rights and victim rights law firm. Heideman is a former President of B’nai B’rith International, former Chairman of the UN Committee for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, presently serves as Chairman of the Institute for Law and Policy at the Hebrew University Faculty of Law, and is the author of recently published The Hague Odyssey: Israel’s Struggle on the Front Lines of Terrorism and Battle for Justice at the United Nations” (Bartleby Press).

*Editorial original published in The Algemenier on March 4, 2014

 Copyright © 2014 · Richard D. Heideman. All Rights Reserved.