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Op-Ed: US Leadership Needed as UN Human Rights Council Meets

Keith Harper, a noted advocate for Native American and human rights, would be a light piercing through the darkness at the UN.
Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 10:48 PM


On March 3, 2014, the UN Human Rights Council convenes in Geneva. The United States cannot be without an Ambassador representing the interests of America and
As a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Mr. Harper would be the first member of a federally recognized tribe to serve as a United States Ambassador.
supportiing its allies on important human rights issues. With the trio of Cuba, China and Russia sitting on the Council, the United States must be fully prepared to provide on the ground active leadership on the many issues which will come before the UNHRC.

President Obama made a wise choice in nominating Keith Harper as the US Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council. We need a strong and effective US Ambassador at the Human Rights Council who can and will successfully shine the light on the truly bad actors and human rights-violators of the world, including but not limited to, the ongoing atrocities in North Korea, Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran while at the same time defending Israel from the biased attacks which regularly and inappropriately infect the UN system. 

Historically, the UNHRC possess a shameful record of focusing on the wrong issues and ignoring those who strive to provide dignity and work to preserve human rights. Over the past many years, the UN Human Rights Council has maintained a deeply troubling and inequitable focus on America’s strongest ally, the State of Israel.

To malign Israel, the most democratic and freedom loving allied nation in the Middle East, while thousands are being slaughtered in Syria, millions are starving in North Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran, is unconscionable. This goes on notwithstanding their new face and appearance of moderation, continues to deny individual rights and liberty while overtly threatening the security of the United States and Israel.

Keith Harper, a noted advocate for Native American and human rights, will be a light piercing through the darkness at the UN. Having known Mr. Harper for many years, I witnessed his dedication to principle first hand when in 2001 I served as Head of Delegation to the UN Conference Against Racism (“Durban Conference”). As the conference disintegrated into an Anti-Semitic “hatefest",  the delegation of Jewish and other NGOs from the United States and throughout the world joined the US and Israeli Ambassadors in walking out of Durban Conference in protest.

In solidarity, Keith and the entire Leadership Conference of Civil Rights delegation also left the Durban Conference in protest of the Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli castigation. Years later, the American Jewish community remains most appreciative of Mr. Harper’s principled response to the situation on the ground in Durban.

Mr. Harper’s career successfully advocating on behalf of the rights of Native Americans and others demonstrates his dedication to protecting and promoting the human rights of all people. Importantly, as a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Mr. Harper would be the first member of a federally recognized tribe to serve as a United States Ambassador. This year at the UN is a focus on indigenous persons. It would be most appropriate for the US to have a respected Native American as US Ambassador to demonstrate its own commitment to the rights and respect of all persons.

The UNHRC needs a strong and immediate US presence in support of human rights willing to fight against the evil-doers of the world who skate from responsibility on the issues of human rights and the dignity of all men and women. The inverted morality which permeates the United Nations cannot be countenanced by the United States. Silence and absence is never acceptable.

The President's nomination of Keith Harper is pending confirmation by the United States Senate. Swift confirmation of Keith Harper as US Ambassador is not only warranted but necessary, as it will ensure an immediate active and visible presence for Western values at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

Richard D. Heideman is Senior Counsel of Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, P.C., the Washington DC based international human rights and victim rights law firm. Heideman is a former President of B'nai B'rith International, former Chairman of the UN Committee for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, presently serves as Chairman of the Institute for Law and Policy at the Hebrew University Faculty of Law and is the author of recently published The Hague Odyssey: Israel's Struggle on the Front Lines of Terrorism and Battle for Justice at the United Nations" (Bartleby Press).