When the United Nations Undermines Human Rights

The New York Times recently published an editorial claiming that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon did not have a choice but to collude with Saudi Arabia in covering up its human rights violations and crimes.

The editorial's moral reasoning is deeply flawed. It fundamentally misunderstands the critique that many concerned with advancing human rights and international human rights law make regarding the Secretary General's actions and the steep costs that vulnerable and persecuted populations will face as a result.

Such collusion - when the Secretary General of the United Nations makes independent, unaccountable utilitarian calculations and violates his professional responsibilities and legal mandate in so doing show contempt on his part to honestly and accurately uphold the law and the integrity of the United Nations system.

He had other options besides capitulation and appeasement.

His choice (and it was a choice) will only embolden greater Saudi human rights violations and undermine human rights and welfare in the long term in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

His rationale seems intuitively reasonable for the immediate future and to meet the needs of peoples requiring urgent assistance. However, it reflects short term and blinkered thinking that undermines the viability and sustainability of the international human rights system, its foundational moral and legal principles and the people they aim to protect, and what little credibility the United Nations still retains.

Many individuals and peoples experiencing human rights violations will suffer from continued impunity as a result of his decision to surrender to bullying. The bullies will be emboldened by the effectiveness of their threats and will likely maintain and expand their violations, undeterred, and inspire other governments to do the same.