The problem with the “Iceland” resolution

By: John Carlo Tria

IN MAINSTREAM media, and especially among the throng of intellectuals who like talking about foreign policy and things like that, the “Iceland” resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a special body under the United Nations, narrowly passed a resolution seeking to investigate claims of human rights violations in the Philippines.

Curiously, the numbers reveal a less than form resolve: only 18 voted yes, 14 voted No, and 15 abstained. All of the 18 except Fiji are western countries. Almost all who abstained and voted against the resolution were non westerners.

Iceland, curiously, is a comfortable sponsor of the resolution since it, theoretically bears no diplomatic loss in doing so. We bear little by way of trade with them their economy at 27 billion US dollars being less than 10% in value compared to the Philippines’ 300 billion US dollars, with a population less than the province of Iloilo.

It, however, will have to deal with accusations that it cannot claim to understand the Philippine situation given its distance from the country and the absence of an embassy that can allow it to investigate the matter and cone up with an informed position in sponsoring the resolution. That said, it will need to rely on oft assailed media reports and second hand sources that may erode the credibility of its position.

Given the results of the vote, the words of Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin explain the significance of the vote:

“This resolution was not universally adopted. Therefore, its validity is highly questionable.  It does not represent the will of the Council, much less that of the developing countries who are always the target of such resolutions.

Western countries pushed for this resolution in the confidence that the world has forgotten what they did and what should have been done to them had there been a Human Rights Council. It was pushed with the arrogance that developing countries must not stand up to them even if we can and as we hereby do. There will be consequences.”

The accusation against the resolution comes from many quarters of the developing world and Asia, which often do not take the side of western countries over such issues.

That said, there remains a clear divide between these countries on many contentious human rights issues such as the death penalty.

Many Asian countries, Singapore, China and Japan included, have maintained the death penalty, while the Philippines is one of a handful of Asian countries that, like many in the West, have decided to abolish it.

Is it the case that western countries do not take the death penalty issue against these death penalty imposing countries as aggressively as it does against the Philippines, accused of a war against perpetrators and promoters of a drug trade that has victimized millions?

This accusation stems from the belief that the UN Human Rights council as a smaller body under the UN has become as a platform to push a more western perspective of human rights that desires that nations adopt an attitude towards human rights that puts individual civil and political rights issues above collective welfare.

Such issues include the curious advocacy for “abortion rights” for women.

Moreover, the charge is that the council tries to lend focus away from the human rights issues faced by other western countries such as the US that opted to leave the council last year.

Many European countries do not have sterling records when it comes to the treatment of refugees and immigrants, many of whom are not criminals. Watch CNN to see these happening.

This is roughly the same accusation faced by the International Criminal Court as majority of the cases it has tried pertain to Asian and African personalities rather than those from the west.

This brings us to a deeper issue. Is there a double standard when dealing with poorer, non western countries?

I hope not. What do you think?