Friday, February 28, 2014

War of words as nations argue over human rights

In the history of the world there have been abhorrent abuses of people’s human rights. The abuses of medieval ages are past, but well into the 21st century human beings are still subject to torture, unjust incarceration, harassment or worse.

Such abuses are often detailed in reports from various organisations, including Amnesty International, Reporters Sans Frontières and Liberty.

Nation states also release reports detailing such abuses. However such reports often stir up consternation with other countries cited in such reports. At particular loggerheads are the United States and China who often engage in a tit-for-tat war of words over human rights abuses, amongst other issues.

US points finger at Syria, Russia & China

This week the US’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor published its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 [BBC].

This year is particularly poignant since it is marked by the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But as the papers released by the State Department clearly detail, human rights abuses still continue.

While the main focus was the ongoing rights abuses in Syria, particularly singled out in the US report were Russia [PDF], that “continues to curb civil society and political opposition and target marginalized populations, including religious and ethnic minorities”, and China [PDF] for its “lack of judicial independence” which the US said “has fueled a state-directed crackdown on activists and suppression of political dissent and public advocacy.” 

In addition to the US report the US Ambassador also added his voice to the debate and called on China to respect human rights [Daily Mail].

But Russia and China were just to two biggest countries accused of abusing human rights. Ukraine which has seen a turbulent few weeks was also detailed in the report with its former government accused of exerting “increased pressure on civil society, journalists, and protesters calling for government accountability and a future with Europe.”

There were also concerns raised about Cuba and Egypt where their respective governments also “used excessive force to quell peaceful protests and dissent.” [Summary PDF]

China upset at "arbitrary & irresponsible attacks"

China, it appears, took umbrage at the US report and responded with its own dossier detailing the abuses by the United States [VoA].

In its response, published via China’s state run news agency Xinhua, the State Department of the United States was criticised for making “arbitrary attacks and irresponsible remarks” on the human rights situation in almost 200 countries and regions.

“The US carefully concealed and avoided mentioning its own human rights problems,” Xinhua notes, and goes on to list what it calls “serious human rights problems in the US”.

It talks of America’s lack of personal security due to the “increasing number of violent crimes in 2013 with frequent occurrence of firearms-related criminal cases.”

“American citizens' lives and personal safety are threatened by an increasingly dangerous environment,” the report states. 

The Xinhua report points particularly at US surveillance of its citizens, highlighting the revelations exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowdon.

“The US government took liberty in monitoring its citizens, which shocked the world,” the article lambasts.

China also accused the US of tortures in its prisons and claimed that electoral systems were “plagued by malpractices and inefficiency”.

The US is accused of flagrant disregard for life with its drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan which have left countless civilians dead or maimed.

Truth & contradictions

Both reports have certain elements of truth, but just as China accuses the US of having “carefully concealed and avoided mentioning its own human rights problems”, so too did China fail to acknowledge its own breaches of citizens rights.

Indeed both nations could be accused of being a pot calling the kettle black.

The US democratic system is perhaps far from perfect, and there may well be instances of corruption. However there is no democracy in China at all and little if any way of seeking help or representation from one’s politicians. In fact any attempt to lobby or petition the Chinese government often results in a prison sentence.

It might also be true to say that many people are badly treated with the United States’ prison system Indeed, the Guantanamo detention facility did nothing to raise the image of the country in the eyes of civil rights campaigners.

However, China locks many people up in appalling conditions, following trial which are far from open and just.

As for monitoring and surveillance, both nations are as guilty as each other. In fact all nations may well carry out surveillance in order to protect its interests. What is different is that in the west, Snowdon’s revelations are public and open for debate. Similar discussions in China would likely be deemed as “subversion of the state” and result in lengthy prison sentences for any transgressors. Can one imagine an organisation similar to the ACLU, with its slogan “Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself”, existing in China?

Casting stones

The use of drones is certainly a valid criticism. But for a nation that fails to recognise or even acknowledge the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, which left hundreds dead, or the great famine that saw millions die in the late 1950s and early 1960s, such criticisms are rather hollow.

The Cold War, and war of words that once used to exist between the West and Russia certainly seems to shifted further east.

But both sides need to take stock concerning these issues. Perhaps they might take note from scripture. As Jesus is once quoted as saying, "let he who is without sin, cast the first stone" [John 8:7]. The contect of his statement may have been different [See Wikipedia] but the basic principle stands.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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