A platform for the world’s tyrants | NY Daily News | 9/21/21


You can read the original op-ed at the New York Daily News

By Enes Kanter and Garry Kasparov

Our colleagues and families have become regime targets at home, a typical tactic that also includes exiled dissidents from Iran, China and Venezuela. Recently, regimes have become more aggressive about targeting opposition figures abroad, even in the U.S., even hijacking planes. A united effort to protect dissidents inside and out of dictatorships is essential.

We have found allies in this fight in Washington and we also looked to New York City, home of the United Nations. But it turns out that the UN is more likely to welcome dictators than their victims and targets, and today’s General Assembly is their annual showcase.

Erdogan is back this year, at the proverbial scene of the crime where his bodyguards beat up protesters and injured UN security staff in 2017. That was only a few months after a similar incident in D.C. was given a pass by President Trump, an admirer of Erdogan and his autocratic ways. Erdogan is also here to promote his book, sure to be as much a compendium of lies and propaganda as his UN speech.

Putin was forced to address the UNGA remotely last year, missing out on the photo-ops he craves with free world foreign leaders. Lacking any legitimacy from fair elections at home, dictators are always eager to appear on international stages and summits, especially in the U.S.

The United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II with the aim of preventing another “war to end all wars” — which, in tragic irony, was the nickname of World War I. While the UN didn’t end war, it did become a useful tool in avoiding a catastrophic clash between nuclear powers.

When the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union, most democratic nations on the victorious side lost interest in the UN and in defending democracy abroad. They turned inward, and to regional and like-minded coalitions like the European Union and NATO. The opposite occurred with authoritarian regimes, who exploited that vacuum to expand their participation and leadership in the UN and other international agencies.

The UN was also created to promote and administer the global recognition of human rights, a mission at which it has failed to the point of now becoming an apologist and platform for some of world’s worst dictatorships.

During the General Assembly, torturers take to the podium to spout about police brutality in the West. Dictators fresh from rigging elections echo Trump’s rhetoric about voter fraud in America. The UN Human Rights Council currently includes Eritrea, Venezuela and even Putin’s Russia, among other leading human rights abusers.

And who is paying for the privilege of being lectured about peace and democracy by war criminals and dictators? Mostly it’s the U.S. taxpayer, as more than a fifth of the UN budget comes from the United States — not to mention the huge chunk of Manhattan real estate used by the UN building and nearby offices.

The response often heard is that otherwise, illiberal regimes will further expand their influence, as they have done with other international organizations, from Turkey hosting the Interpol General Assembly this year to China’s deadly influence over the World Health Organization. But they are doing it anyway, while the U.S. picks up the check.

The second sentence of the UN’s founding charter touts the need for faith “in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”

Today, you will see people stand before the General Assembly who make a mockery of those fine words. Erdogan, whose NATO-member nation is also considered “not free” by Freedom House, will talk about peace while his regime crushes dissent at home and bombs U.S.-backed Kurds in Syria. Representatives from China and Russia will lecture about national character and sovereignty, spitting on the “universal” in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It’s not enough to ignore these thugs and let them take over the world’s largest international organization. The UN still performs valuable services that cannot be easily replaced. But unless the U.S. and other nations fight back, the UN will continue its downward trajectory toward becoming what Winston Churchill warned of in 1946, “a sham…a frothing of words…a cockpit in a Tower of Babel.”

Kanter is a center for the Boston Celtics and human rights activist. Kasparov is a former world chess champion and is the chairman of the NYC-based Human Rights Foundation.


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