According to the UN Charter, promotion and protection of human rights are a principal purpose of the UN, second only to the maintenance of peace. During the 1960s and the 1970s, UN human rights activities gave rise to the concern that instead of objectively applying the standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN majority sought to use human rights as another means of furthering political warfare. During that period a double standard developed in that countries that were politically well-connected or sufficiently powerful were virtually immune from scrutiny on their human rights practices. By contrast, those that were relatively weak or unpopular within the UN were subject to detailed scrutiny within the UN Human Rights Commission.
Despite marked improvements in human rights practices in some countries since that time, the UN continues to avoid focusing on certain major violators whenever it is politically expedient, as has been the case with large-scale massacres in a number of countries. In the reports of the Commission meetings a new technique is now being used whereby, in contrast to the past, the countries accused of violations are not named, being referred to by circumlocutions such as "in one country". Such procedures effectively ensure that certain violations are not exposed to the media spotlight which is the principal UN means for reducing human rights infractions by governments, thus seriously undermining the Declaration and adherence to the norms therein and in other instruments.
Intergovernmental bodies tend to be extremely cautious in speaking out against human rights abuses. The UN often has information on various forms of abuse but fails to act upon it. UN officials have found themselves obliged to offer excuses for repressive regimes and to refrain from comment on brutal measures undertaken by such regimes. The UN has proved extremely cautious in commenting upon massacres in member states or on the violence undertaken or advocated by bodies that it recognizes, notably liberation movements.
In a 1991 report of the international human-rights monitoring group Africa Watch, for 30 years the UN has kept quiet about the true degree of suffering in Ethiopia, including military abuses against civilians and the brutal treatment of Eritrea by Emperor Haile Selassie, which has continued on a far bloodier scale with Colonel Mengistu. It is claimed that the UN knew what was going on, but denied reports of diversions of food, endorsed untrue government claims (including denial of military abuses against civilians) and directed aid only to the government side. The sabotage of UN charter principles is true for Africa as a whole. Atrocities of dictators against their own people were deemed "internal matters" and therefore taboo.