Follow us on:   

The pots and kettles of the Human Rights debate
November 15, 2013, 5:14 pm

The US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is leading from the front in criticising the recent election of China and Russia to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ top rights body.

Concerns about human rights records in China and Russia are highlighted on a regular basis in western media. One cannot argue much with the fact that they have both struggled in this area.

The US, however, is not well placed to criticise or sermonise. Severe human rights violations are rampant in the US prison system. According to Pew Research, imprisonment rate (per capita) in the US is almost 50 per cent higher than Russia’s and 320 per cent higher than China’s.

China, South Africa and Russia on Tuesday were elected to the UN Human Rights Council for a three-year term [Getty Images]

China, South Africa and Russia on Tuesday were elected to the UN Human Rights Council for a three-year term [Getty Images]

The racist and arbitrary application of the death penalty is on historic record. African Americans are six times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person and non-white Latinos are almost three times more likely to be incarcerated, says the Pew Center.

America’s privatised health care system exclusively for the wealthy is an equal disgrace.

While critiquing China and Russia, the US has supported and is supporting some of the worst human rights violators in the world: Saudi-Arabia and Uzbekistan to name but a few. It has and is supporting the overthrow of democratically elected leaders all over the world. And, then there is Guantanamo and the drone attacks.

What’s noteworthy is that the US has not objected to other notorious human rights violators becoming member of the UN Human Rights Commission in the past.

Among the rights bodies, the US-based HRW (Human Rights Watch) has called the election “troubling” calling the new entrants ‘negative players”. I think, HRW has done outstanding work in some countries and written pro-US, biased reports in others.

Incidentally, Ms Power, the US delegate to the UN HR Commission, had also written a eulogy for Richard Holbrooke, the man who made a career out of covering up US supported massacres in East-Timor and elsewhere and highlighting massacres by official US enemies.

She works in the same vein, much ado about human right abuses by official enemies, apologetic about US and US-sponsored atrocities.

Being selective about human rights violations does not make the world a better place; it makes matters worse, since it sends out a clear message to the tyrants of the world. “Be on our side and do whatever you please, as long you take care of our interests, otherwise you are toast…”.

However, it would be unfair to point fingers to the US exclusively. The US is indeed not alone with its “selective indignation”.

China and the US can both be accused of “selective indignation” on human rights, says Vanoost [Getty Images]

China and the US can both be accused of “selective indignation” on human rights, says Vanoost [Getty Images]

France, UK, any EU-member state, China, Russia, Israel, they are all faithful followers of the same doctrine that divides human rights atrocities in three technical categories:

1) Human rights abuses (real ones and invented ones) committed by our official enemies: they are ‘human rights abuses’.

2) Human rights abuses committed by ourselves, our allies, our friends: they are retaliation, surgical strikes, slightly excessive responses, tactical mistakes based on incomplete information, lack of democratic culture (ours), our enemies placing their children at military target sites, etc etc … the list of excuses is endless. After all, we are ‘the good guys’.

3) Human rights abuses committed somewhere by someone where we have no interests, where we do not care, they are relegated to small print on the back pages, ‘violent clashes’, ‘a culture of internecine violence‘, … or ignored completely.

I am not inventing anything here. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky analyzed the political instrumentalisation of human rights already in 1979 in their seminal books ‘The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume I. The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism and Volume II. Postwar Indochina & The Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology. Their case studies may be somewhat outdated, but their analysis still applies today.

It comes down to this. Our terrorism is not ‘terrorism’. Their terrorism is ‘terrorism’. We may from time to time make mistakes, judgment errors, exaggerate, but our intentions are always good, by imperial definition.

The reaction of the US to the Russian and Chinese accession to the UN HR Commission fits perfectly into that mold.

Is there a way out? Mass media not perpetuating this mythology but exposing it for the sham it is would be a start. Unfortunately and as much as it pains me to admit, today that is hardly the case.

Does this means one should refrain from exposing human rights abuses? Certainly not. When doing so, just apply the same standards of judgment to all human rights abuses everywhere. That’s how you get credibility and real impact.

Postscript: Lest we forget that many US citizens agree with this analysis. When I began by saying, ‘US criticizes …’, I was definitely referring to the US-government, the political elite, the economic one percent, the military establishment and not ‘the people of the United States’.

Lode Vanoost writes for

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Anti-Spam * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.