This authority on human rights has become a thorn in the side of the UN and a passionate defender of Israel.
At a time when cultural relativism seems to dominate Western political discourse, it is rare to find individuals who unashamedly stand by their principles. Anne Bayefsky is one such person.
Bayefsky has emerged as one of the most trenchant critics of the United Nations, which she has called “morally depraved” and “unfit for leadership”. A Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, she has written a number of scholarly texts on the application of human rights in international law, including an exhaustive study of the human rights treaty system. In 2005, she founded Eye on the UN, a joint project of the Hudson Institute and the Touro Institute for Human Rights, dedicated to holding the UN accountable to its founding principles.
Her evolution into a confirmed UN sceptic was hardly that of an isolationist right-winger. Born in Toronto in 1953, she completed her legal training at the University of Toronto and studied constitutional law under Geoffrey Marshall at Oxford. Bayefsky returned to Canada to become a professor at the University of Ottawa Law School, subsequently working as an adviser to the Canadian delegation to the UN and an advocate for women’s and refugees’ rights.
Bayefsky’s father was an artist and an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force who visited Bergen Belsen shortly after its liberation. She maintains that her father’s descriptions of the camps were a formative influence in her commitment to universal human rights. She also cites Emil Fackenheim as a key figure in her intellectual development.
This spirit of defiance pervades Bayefsky’s written work, as well as her frequent testimony to UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council (UNHRC). When she attended the Durban World Conference Against Racism in 2001 as a delegate for a Jewish organisation, Bayefsky was disturbed to find that many of her colleagues in the human rights establishment were decidedly hostile towards the state of Israel. Following the release of the infamous “Zionism as racism” declaration at the conclusion of the NGO conference, and the official governmental Durban Declaration’s singling out of Israel as guilty of racism, Bayefsky concluded: “It is now officially acceptable to use the cause of anti-racism to foment anti-Semitism.”
Since then, her work has consistently focused on the connection between the UN human rights apparatus and what she views as institutionalised anti-Semitism. To get a sense of what drives her, watch her testimony at the Durban Review Conference in April 2009 (at www.eyontheun.org). After repeated interruptions on spurious points of order from the Iranian delegation, Bayefsky’s concluding statement was characteristically withering: “This conference will be remembered for poisoning the wellspring of human values. It will be remembered for the triumph of hate over hope, and the dustbin of history is its only desert.”
Anne Bayefsky has a refreshingly unsentimental view of her work. She is principled but not sanctimonious, a rare trait among human rights advocates. Her legal training is evident in her assiduous collection of primary evidence to demonstrate the extent of corruption within the UN human rights establishment. Most recently, she has brought her analytical prowess to bear on the Goldstone Report on Gaza. In September, Bayefsky testified at the UNHRC session in Geneva and denounced the report as “the contemporary equivalent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion“. While the analogy may not be entirely apposite, Bayefsky’s analysis of the report has revealed its deep core of anti-Israeli sentiment and intellectual dishonesty.
Her criticism of the Obama administration’s foreign policy has been mordantly insightful — among other charges, she has accused President Obama of a de facto acceptance of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and of ignoring the plight of dissidents around the world. She has castigated Obama’s endorsement of a UNHRC resolution to “combat religious stereotyping” and insist on the “moral and social responsibilities of the media” as “backing…limits on freedom of expression”, and has said that his September address to the General Assembly would be laughable if “its implications were not so dangerous”.
What sustains Anne Bayefsky in what must often feel like a Sisyphean effort? In conversation and in her writing, Bayefsky reveals an absolute intolerance for hypocrisy and a loathing for those who have cynically exploited the language of human rights for unjust ends. “When anti-racism initiatives become vehicles for anti-Semitism, and when tyrants become the arbiters of human rights, one has a responsibility to stand up and be counted,” she declares.
With her next project, entitled Human Rights Voices, she will attempt to provide a platform for the victims of the abusers regularly fêted at the UN. They are the casualties of a politicised human rights establishment, and their existence should remind us of Camus’s injunction that writers “cannot serve those who make history; [they] must serve those who are subject to it”. Anne Bayefsky’s work is a testament to this spirit, and a defiant rejection of the moral equivocations which characterise too much of today’s human rights establishment.