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Vietnam invents a U.N. procedure to silence critics

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Published by The Wall Street Journal

The Security Council's latest fumble on Syria might represent the U.N.'s biggest failure of the last month, but it's hardly the only one. So as a reminder of all the little things the U.N. also gets wrong, we present the latest machinations involving a U.N. group ostensibly concerned with human rights.

Vietnam's Communist Party-led government recently blackballed a nongovernmental organization's attempt to secure accreditation to the U.N. The Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, or KKF, is a small group based in New Jersey that tracks the plight of the Khmer ethnic minority in Vietnam. Mainly that involves compiling and disseminating well-respected reports of rights abuses such as Hanoi's harassment of Khmer Buddhists who refuse to join state-sanctioned religious organizations.

That's probably why Hanoi pitched a fit when in May the KKF received an accreditation from the U.N.'s Economic and Social Council, or EcoSoc. This would have allowed the group to participate in a range of U.N. conferences, and would have allowed KKF speaking time in relevant meetings to raise its concerns about Hanoi's rights record. More than 3,000 other nongovernmental organizations have been accredited over the years, so KKF would hardly have stood out.

Vietnam's government launched an aggressive campaign against the group. Rather than pushing to refer KKF's status back to the accreditation committee for additional review, which is the usual course in the rare instances when a decision proves controversial, Hanoi proposed a resolution at a recent meeting to strip KKF's accreditation directly.

In this way, Hanoi was able to put the decision on KKF's accreditation in the hands of a body—EcoSoc's general membership—where Vietnam could trade political horses with its neighbors and harness support from other authoritarians such as Russia and Venezuela. The resolution passed last week with support from 27 states, including democratic members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines that should know better. Another 14 EcoSoc members, including the U.S., voted in KKF's favor, and 10 countries abstained.

Rights activists note that with this stroke Vietnam has created a new procedural tool that other rights abusers can use to silence their own critics at the U.N. They also suggest that this dust-up raises additional questions about Hanoi's fitness to sit on the Human Rights Council in 2014, a position for which Vietnam—no joke—is currently said to be campaigning despite its long tradition of jailing dissidents.

The mistake these activists make is looking at the U.N. as they'd like it to be, not as it really is. Having thwarted critics of its rights record, Hanoi will fit right in with the likes of China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia on the Council.