While other people worried about what President Donald Trump meant when he discussed “sovereignty,” and while other people wrung their hands and mopped their brows because he wasn’t being polite to North Korea, seated in the front row at his inaugural speech to the United Nations, I heard this:
“It is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
While journalists hyperventilated about the tone of his words, others breathed a great sigh of relief that someone was finally speaking truth to power, even if that person wielded a great deal of power himself.
Gone are the days of making nice-nice with the tyrants who come to New York in the comfortable conviction that no matter how egregious their treatment of their own citizens might be, they will not be given a tongue-lashing in this cozy diplomatic country club in Midtown Manhattan.
I know a lot of people hate Trump, and if they don’t hate him, they are disgusted that he was the only alternative to Hillary Clinton, whom they hated more. There are the base voters, those who will accept and excuse his flaws regardless of their nature or severity, a minority within a minority.
But there are times when the ones who truly love him and the ones who merely tolerate him can see something that the “resistance” cannot or will not: his ability to speak some uncomfortable verities instead of the usual empty, albeit elegantly phrased, inanities.
Trump has great timing and an unerring sense of how to cut through the prefab pieties of diplomacy. One look at Gen. John Kelly’s now-famous bowed and defeated head could tell you that – a picture worth a thousand tears, as I told one friend.
Clearly, no one expected Obama-style smoothness from this president, but they were probably not expecting him to take on the U.N. record of human rights with deadly accuracy, either. But he went there, and I was cheering from my seat in the peanut gallery.
To understand just how important it was that Trump pointed the finger at a body that has become increasingly unaccountable for its gross hypocrisy, we only have to look at some of the countries included on the Human Rights Council. I have intimate experience with many of these countries, having researched their regimes when working on the asylum applications of my clients.
Let’s start with El Salvador, whose term on the council expires in 2017. That will be very good news to one of my clients, a woman who was so badly beaten by her boyfriend that she lost the baby she was carrying, and whose numerous entreaties for police protection were ignored. According to the Country Reports for Human Rights Practices issued by our own State Department, “Violence against women, including domestic violence, was a widespread and serious problem. A large portion of the population considered domestic violence socially acceptable.”
Another country on the list, Albania, will also see its term expire in 2017. This is great news for another client, an Albanian woman who was raped by her father and brother to “flush the gay” out of her.
Then there’s my friend from Bangladesh, who will be thrilled to know that the country that tortured him for belonging to the wrong political party will probably lose its seat on the “Human Rights Council” after this year.
But friends from Togo won’t be that lucky. That country will be on the council until at least 2018. One of my clients must live with the fact that the government that allowed its police officers to rape and infect him with HIV will be formulating humanitarian policies for another year.
And Venezuela, a country that is confiscating the private property of its citizens, jailing its journalists and silencing its critics, including the relatives of another friend, will also be sharing a place at that table until 2018.
Cuba will be there until 2019, enraging my friend who spent 20 years in prison as a political prisoner before escaping. I remember that when Elian Gonzalez was sent back home with his father by the Clinton administration, my friend called me and said, “Tio Sam is sending that child back to hell.”
Rwanda is also there until 2019, a country that in 100 days presided over the genocide of millions of its own Tutsi citizens.
And the list goes on. Saudi Arabia, where women are second-class citizens. Kyrgyzstan, where ethnic minorities are persecuted. China, where they jail Christians. And Egypt, where they kill them.
Trump was right about the U.N.’s hypocrisy. So while everyone else criticized his harsh tones, I cheered his honesty. So, I am sure, were many of my international friends and the souls of the martyred Christians watching from above.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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