What if Nazi Germany’s human rights record had been reviewed by the UN?
NOTE by Aaron Rhodes:
The United Nations completed its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China’s human rights record on 15 March 2019. Witnessing China’s defense of internment camps in Xinjiang, where the government has confined about 1 million Muslims, as “boarding schools,” and the near absence of meaningful criticism of China’s massive human rights violations by governments during the event, I found myself wondering: “What if Nazi Germany’s human rights record had been likewise reviewed by the UN?”
A hypothetical news report follows:
Third Reich Triumphs in UN Human Rights Review
“Human Rights with Nazi Characteristics”
(Geneva, 15 March 2019) Hailing social and economic progress, Nazi Germany defended its network of concentration camps as “residential resettlement centers” as the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council completed the Third Reich’s Universal Period Review (UPR) of its human rights record in Geneva on 15 March.
In remarks opening the exercise, Joseph Goebbels, head of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, affirmed that the Greater German Reich was a leader in protecting Economic and Social Rights. “In less than a decade, we have brought German GDP to unprecedented levels, eradicating poverty and unemployment, and we have dramatically increased public health and infant care, strengthened public education, and provided public housing,” Goebbels said. “We have introduced human rights with Nazi characteristics,” he added.
He cited Germany’s Nature Protection Act as in the “vanguard” of environmentalist “Third Generation Rights,” and also said Germany respected basic freedoms. “I can assure our colleagues in the international community that freedom of expression, religion, and association are fully protected in ways consistent with our national legislation,” he said, adding that the Rule of Law had been reestablished as a central principle of the government and society. He noted that Germany had accepted 80 percent of recommendations to safeguard human rights made by other states.
Goebbels proactively addressed concerns that had been expressed by some UN member states about Germany’s network of concentration camps where Jews and some other minority groups and dissidents have reportedly been forcibly confined.
He said the facilities, which he termed “resettlement” camps, were fully consistent with Germany’s sovereign right to protect the German people’s right to security and stability, and to safeguard public morals, public health and the welfare of minorities. They offered free accommodation, food, health care, work in camp hospitals and industries, and vocational training, he said.
Goebbels’ statement was followed by interventions by State delegations, all but two of which praised Germany’s compliance with international human rights standards and cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. Critics from independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted that Germany seemed to have “packed” the speaker’s list with client states, including inter alia the Slovak Republic, the Independent State of Croatia, the Italian Social Republic, and Vichy France. Each government used points echoing Dr. Goebbels, suggesting the preparation of official talking points. Germany was also lavishly praised by its ally Imperial Japan, but numerous Western states also praised Germany’s economic, social and environmental programs as evidence of human rights compliance.
During the segment of the review designated for civil society comments, the vast majority were defenses of Germany’s social programs by groups including the Nazi People’s Welfare Association, the German League for Voluntary Welfare and the Germany Red Cross. Independent NGOs ridiculed these groups as GONGOs (Government Controlled NGOs), and three that were able to register on the speaker’s list spoke of reports of arbitrary, mass executions of Jews and other “concentration camp” prisoners, as well as the burning of Jewish synagogues. Dr. Goebbels referred these groups to reports by Red Cross inspectors after visits to the Theresienstadt facility near Prague.
One group complained on the sidelines of the meeting that it’s critical written submission to the UN had been deleted, allegedly due to pressure from the German UN delegation. There have also been reports of independent German civil society activists being forcibly detained and ill-treated while traveling to participate in the Review.
While Goebbels said that some UN special rapporteurs had been prevented from visits because of “political biases,” he noted that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had accepted an invitation to visit the country, as well as the Nazi government’s substantial financial contribution to the Office of the High Commissioner. (A staff member of the High Commissioner’s Office, speaking anonymously, expressed fear that Nazi Germany was “redefining human rights” for the international community.)
As the UPR final report was adopted without objection by the delegates, it was greeted with widespread applause, a highly unusual response.
Goebbels and numerous UN delegates praised the UPR as a process allowing human rights compliance to be analyzed in a “cooperative, non-selective, and non-confrontational” manner that respected member state’s “particular situations” and “development levels,” and stressing the role of the UN in “capacity building” and assistance to National Human Rights Institutions.
The author Aaron Rhodes is president of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and author of The Debasement of Human Rights (Encounter Books, 2018).