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May 10, 2006
Morality At Turtle Bay

The United Nations validated every argument yesterday about the efficacy of its so-called reform when it announced that Cuba, China, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Azerbaijan would sit on its Human Rights Council:

Six nations with poor human rights records were among those elected to the new Human Rights Council on Tuesday, although notorious violators that had belonged to the predecessor Human Rights Commission did not succeed in winning places in the new group.

China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, countries cited by human rights groups as not deserving membership, were among the 47 nations elected to the council. But in a move hailed by the same groups, both Iran and Venezuela failed to attract the needed votes. ...

Nations running for the council had to meet more demanding standards than in the past.

The previous commission was long a public embarrassment to the United Nations because countries like Sudan, Libya and Zimbabwe became members and thereby thwarted the investigation of their own human rights records.

The United States did not run for a seat on the council, saying that the new body did not go far enough to correct the deficiencies of the old one. The council was created on March 15, in a 170 to 4 vote, that the United States, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands opposed.

Nations had to meet more demanding standards than in the past? They couldn't be much more demanding. Any system that applauds itself for replacing Zimbabwe with Cuba and Sudan with Saudi Arabia renders satire moot.

The US objected to the new Human Rights Council because its so-called reforms showed little difference between the new panel and the old Human Rights Commission. Once again, we see that notorious human-rights violaters have standing to pass judgment on other nations and to direct investigations as they see fit. Cuba will therefore get a pass on its jailing of dissidents and reporters; China will not answer for its forced abortions and its political oppression. The good news, however, is that Venezuela won't be a member despite Hugo Chavez' slavish devotion to Fidel Castro.

If the farcical selection of the guardians of human rights doesn't make people laugh out loud at Turtle Bay, then its new push for "moral investment" will. The UN has drawn up a set of principles for businesses to model if they want to have the moral imprimatur of the UN with which to attract investors. It sounds reasonable in principle, but as a result, entire industries get locked out of the UN's good graces:

The funds typically use "social screens" to rule out investments in alcohol or tobacco companies, military contractors or chemical companies with a history of environmental abuses.

Even General Electric Co. is excluded from some lists because of its defense business. ...

Part of the problem in keeping up with the best mainstream stocks is finding highly profitable companies that fit the criteria of being socially responsible. Typically, they cannot be involved in the tobacco, alcoholic beverage or gambling industries; they cannot hold contracts with the military; they also must have good records for labor relations.

About two-thirds of the companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange could survive the Calvert Group's social screens.

However, some of last year's best-performing companies, such as oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. or brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos., would be weeded out because of their environmental or health records.

People should invest their money into enterprises that reflect their values and that deserve more investment. Ideally, that should lead to better returns, but limiting the scope of investments decreases the chances for success, at least theoretically. The problem with this proposal is not the concept but the messenger. The same people who want to push morality in investment have just named some of the worst human-rights offenders to their Human Rights Council. The same organization also "invested" its money into the pockets of Saddam Hussein over a period of years, keeping his dictatorship afloat while enriching themselves. They also have known for several years of systemic forced prostitution in their relief operations and have yet to do anything to address the problem except assure everyone that they're looking into it.

The hypocrisy of this arrogance would stun if it weren't so common coming from Turtle Bay. In short, according to the UN itself, it is not worthy of investment; it has no moral standing at all. In this case, we should take them at their word.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 10, 2006 6:11 AM

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