U.S. Complains About U.N. Appointment to Which It Had ‘Agreed Without a Peep’ Hours Earlier

By Patrick Goodenough | May 9, 2014 | 4:37 AM EDT

The U.N. Human Rights Council has appointed U.S.-based Turkish academic Hilal Elver as ‘special rapporteur on the right to food.’ (Photo: U.C. Santa Barbara)

(CNSNews.com) – For the second time in a two weeks, the Obama administration on Thursday criticized a decision by a United Nations Human Rights Council to fill a post with a candidate it deems unsuitable – after not objecting publicly when given the opportunity to do so.

The latest incident occurred in Geneva, where the U.N. Human Rights Council appointed 19 individuals to serve as special experts focusing on a range of country situations and human rights themes.

Among those given the nod was Hilal Elver, a U.S.-based Turkish academic appointed as “special rapporteur on the right to food.” Her nomination brought some criticism, due to controversial comments and writings critical of the U.S. response to 9/11, Israel, and other issues.

Shortly after Elver and the other 18 nominees were approved, the U.S. mission in Geneva issued a “media note” expressing “concern.”

“Ms. Elver’s lack of relevant experience in this area [“the right to food”] raises questions about her readiness for this assignment,” it said. “In addition, several of Ms. Elver’s previous publications include biased and inflammatory views regarding the United States and the state of Israel.”

The statement said those views “run counter to the dispassionate professionalism central to the work of a special rapporteur.”

Yet when the actual decision was put to HRC members a little earlier, neither the U.S. delegate – nor anyone else – raised objections about Elver.

“I would like to ask the council if the list as a whole can be now approved by the council?” said the HRC’s president, Baudelaire Ndong Ella of Gabon. “I see no objections, it is so decided.”

Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust and a close observer of the U.N., noted later that when the council president had given members, including the U.S., “an opportunity to comment, object and call for a vote” none had done so.

Then hours later the U.S. mission complained about the appointment “to which they had agreed without a peep a few hours before,” she said.

“The cynicism of the Obama administration ringing its hands after the fact, having failed to stop her appointment – and having refused to make any connection to its major financial and political support for the council – is simply staggering,” Bayefsky said. “The show is manipulative, dishonest and completely out of sync with American values.”

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Canada – not currently a member of the HRC – was the only country known to have objected formally to Elver’s nomination.

Canadian news agency QMI reported that Foreign Minister John Baird in a letter to HRC president Ndong Ella said she was unsuitable, and that “her public record clearly demonstrates abysmal judgment.”

Among other things, Baird said Elver had accused Israel of “genocide” and “water apartheid.”

On Monday U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, wrote to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power Rice, urging the U.S. to oppose Elver’s candidacy – to no avail.

Thursday was the second time in two weeks that the U.S. administration did not speak out publicly to object to a pending U.N. decision – before criticizing it afterwards.

On April 23, Iran was elected in New York to a four-year term on the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which deals with gender equality and the advancement of women.

On that occasion too, the presiding official called for objection, heard none, and Iran got the post “by acclamation.” The U.S. or any other member of the electing body could have called for a recorded vote, which would then have taken place by secret ballot and put Iran’s nomination to test.

Afterwards Power called Iran’s election to the CSW “an outrage.”


The HRC has several dozen “special rapporteurs” – reporter-investigators focused on a particular country situation or on a theme such as racism or extreme poverty. The council views their work as pivotal to the U.N.’s human rights efforts.

Although the “right to food” mandate may seem uncontentious, it has not always been the case.

Elver’s immediate predecessor, Olivier de Schutter of Belgium, angered the Canadian government when after a visit in 2012 he issued a report critical of its domestic food-related policies.

“It would be our hope that the contributions we make to the United Nations are used to help starving people in developing countries, not to give lectures to wealthy and developed countries like Canada,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said at the time.

De Schutter’s predecessor was Jean Ziegler, a left-wing Swiss sociologist with a record of sympathizing with despotic regimes, and of criticizing the U.S. and Israel.

Elver, research professor in global studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, is the spouse of Princeton international law scholar Richard Falk, who has just completed a six-year stint in another of the HRC’s special rapporteur posts, in his case focusing on “human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Falk’s tenure was deeply controversial, due to harsh criticism of Israel, writings about an “apparent cover up” over the 9/11 terror attacks, and suggestions that the Boston Marathon bombing was an understandable consequence the “American global domination project.” The U.S. several times called for his removal, and welcomed his recent departure.

According to U.N. Watch, the Elver-Falk association is a troubling one.

“Hilal Elver is not only Richard Falk’s wife, employee and main collaborator, but she echoes his crude and simplistic post-colonial narrative, which demonizes America, the West, and Israel, while praising dictators like [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and the books of 9/11 conspiracy theorists,” U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said earlier this week.

After Thursday’s development, Neuer called the appointment “bizarre, nepotistic, and politically-driven.”

In its “media note” issued on Thursday, the U.S. Mission in Geneva said Elver’s “appointment could reflect negatively on the council’s other special procedures mandates, most of which produce crucial work that highlights, promotes, and protects human rights around the world.”

“Notwithstanding these concerns, the United States hopes Ms. Elver will use this position to take a constructive approach to addressing the complex challenges of global food security and nutrition,” it said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow