The UN criticises Mumbai’s re-development project

Or why this is more important than solving crises like Darfur

Among the United Nations Commission on Human Rights are such worthies as Sudan, Zimbabwe and Cuba. During its annual meetings, the commission spends an inordinately long time trying to demonise Israel, a democracy, while ignoring the flagrant violations of human rights in places such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, China or the Arab Middle-East. This year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing has found it appropriate to criticise Mumbai city’s modernisation attempts because of the negative effects it has had on slum dwellers. Adequate housing, according to the United Nations, is considered part of human rights of citizens.

It is ironic that a unrepresentative UN commission can find itself sufficiently qualified to define rights for Indian slum dwellers. That India has a constitution, that has quite clearly laid out fundamental rights and channels of redress seems irrelevant to the UN’s considerations. The clearing of Mumbai’s slums is an economic, legal and public policy issue in India — which are being addressed within the framework of India’s democratic institutions. The UN has no business at all in this — what interest does the UN have, for example, in preparing Mumbai for the future?

Worse, by including economic policy issues into its ambit, the UNCHR risks straying from its basic mandate. It should be more concerned about checking the loss of the right to life in many parts of the world, and the right to freedom in many others. The more the UN finds itself engaging in debates over matters like the right to adequate housing, the less time it will have to tackle the more pressing issues that need its attention — genocide, for example.

Kofi Annan’s recent report on UN reform includes a section on UN Commission on Human Rights. He’s got a point — at this time, it is looking rather ridiculous.