Published August 1, 1993
The Vienna Declaration’s action plan also in; eluded a couple of dubious proposals for expanding the U.N. human rights bureaucracy.
The first is the creation of a U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to coordinate U.N. human rights activity and to serve as a kind of universal ombudsman for human rights—much as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has done for the victims of war, famine, and natural disasters. The proposal, attractive in the abstract, becomes far less so in the light of current U.N. politics.
The position of High Commissioner would, like the Secretary-Generalship, almost certainly have to rotate among various regions of the world. This would virtually guarantee bad choices, or High Commissioners who could be counted on not to rock the boat. Moreover, the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would add yet another layer of bureaucracy to a U.N. system that is already choking to death on red tape. The money required for this initiative might be better spent on strengthening the system of special rapporteurs responsible to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The United States supported the idea of a High Commissioner at the Vienna conference, presumably out of a concern that we be seen as “serious” about human rights; but it is not at all clear that the cause of human rights protection will be advanced by the addition of another blizzard of paper.
The United States did oppose the establishment of a “Working Group of the Right to Development,” a true boondoggle whose creation was supported by our increasingly unserious Western European allies. But the Yanks lost the argument, and another bureaucratic black hole was created into which hundreds of thousands of dollars will be sucked.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.