May 7, 2001   New York Times

Slavery Triumphs

By WILLIAM SAFIRE

WASHINGTON  Led by Communist China and Communist Cuba, and with the connivance of French diplomats currying favor with African and Arab dictators, the U.N. threw the United States off the Human Rights Commission.

As an added thumb in the eye to defenders of human rights, the world body in effect replaced us with Sudan, where human beings are bought and sold and torture is a way of life.

Why? Not because of any U.S. straight talk about meaningless treaties on land mines or sea bottoms or air warming. And not, as Senator John Kerry said yesterday about the triumphant anti-Americans, because the world now finds "a lack of a sense of honesty" in the U.S. government.

The real reasons for slapping us in the face are obvious and immediate: first, to punish the U.S. for daring to ask the 53 nations of the U.N. group to criticize China's record of repression. And second, to humiliate the U.S. for opposing the commission's recent vote blaming Israel for the war started by order of Yasir Arafat.

The U.N. nations did not enjoy being shown up publicly to be a pack of hypocrites in approving a dictatorship's offense and condemning a democracy's self-defense. The enraged Communists and their fellow U.N. travelers seized their chance to show who decides how freedom is to be restricted and morality is to be measured.

The sneak diplomatic attack caught Colin Powell and our State Department asleep. Of the 53 nations voting, the dumbfounded Powell claimed he had "43 solid written assurances" of support for the U.S. But only 29 voted to keep us on the commission.

Who were the 14 nations that supposedly assured us of their support and then double-crossed us to elevate a slave trader into the seat we were forced to vacate? Secretary Powell professed to be too proud or too busy to ask: "I'm not going to spend any of my time trying to break into what was essentially a secret vote to try to find out what happened."

That's even worse than being caught napping. Powell's job is to know which nations will stab us in the back in return for some Chinese trade or Arab oil preference or Security Council vote. If our career diplomats in Geneva and New York are out to lunch, and if our intelligence agency is justifying its budget by turning its headquarters into a movie set, then who will make public the "essentially" secret vote that fighters for human rights need to know?

Here is a challenge for journalists. Who will piece together and break the complex story behind the stealthy ousting of the overconfident Americans? More than a hundred diplomats were privy to the plot; can nobody be induced to reveal the truth? What payoffs were promised by our European allies especially France, Austria and Sweden, now elected to the U.N.'s sanhedrin of hypocrisy that the Bush administration prefers not to know about?

A few news organizations, including The Times, still invest in international investigative reporting. Among agencies, The A.P. offers hope; Reuters, though spread wide, rarely digs deep; and Agence France-Presse, in position to get this story, is likely to pass. TV will cover it in depth five years after it has appeared in print.

Perhaps the lapdog press in Beijing or Havana will provide an outlet for a little boasting by its political masters, thereby embarrassing our see-no-evil secretary of state by providing the delicious details of diplomatic duplicity.

But the Congress need not wait to read how China, Cuba and their slave-trading ally Sudan took the U.S. to the cleaners. Although Senate Foreign Relations is somewhat compromised by the Helms-Biden deal to pay the U.N. $581 million in back dues, the House has yet to authorize the payment.

The House is scheduled to vote this week on the State Department authorization bill that contains our back U.N. dues plus an additional $67 million to rejoin Unesco after 17 years.

The black caucus is curiously silent. But Congress should suspend its final payment until it gets detailed answers from State or C.I.A. or a vigilant press about who were "the faithless fourteen" nations and for what commercial or political advantage they swapped their votes by selling out the fundamental rights of human beings.  


Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company