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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 10, February 27, 2010

Need to Stop Politics on Human Rights

Monday 1 March 2010, by Satish Kumar


Recently the ex-Army chief of Sri Lanka created a wave by saying that many Tamil separatists were gunned down by the Army when they were ready to surrender. If this is true then there is a gross violation of human rights. According to General Sarath Fonseka, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the Defence Secretary—the brother of the current President—instructed soldiers not to take in rebel prisoners. Sri Lankan authorities have resisted international calls for a war crimes investigation amid allegations by the United Nations that more than 7000 civilians were killed during the first four months of last year alone. The military claimed victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after wiping out the leadership of the once-powerful movement, which began its armed struggle for an independent Tamil homeland in 1972. Similarly, human right violations in Somalia and other parts of the world are quite rampant.

According to the Human Rights Organisation in the US, there is widespread human rights abuse practised in India. This reveals the double-standards on the policy of human rights at the international level. Two examples are sufficient to prove that such a body, like other international organisations, works under the instructions of the Western countries. The first news came from Afghanistan and Iraq. It has been proved that the US military had crossed all limits of atrocities against the captives in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Obama Administration is set to intensify the torture debate by releasing scores of new pictures showing abuse of prisoners held by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. The pictures were taken between 2001 and 2006 at the detention centres. The Bush Administration had repeatedly blocked through legal channels appeals from human rights groups for release of the pictures, which are held by the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. But the Obama Administration lifted all legal obstacles and the pictures are to be published shortly.

The second news came from Britain. Australian PM Kevin Rudd has apologised to hundreds of thousands of people, some of them British migrants, who were abused or neglected in state care as children. Government records show that at least 150,000 children aged between three and 14 were taken abroad, mainly to Australia and Canada, in a programme that began in the 1920s and did not stop until 1967. The children, almost invariably from deprived backgrounds and already in some form of social or charitable care, were cut off from their families or even falsely informed that they were orphans. While their parents were told the child migrants had gone for a better life, in many cases they remained in institutions or were sent to farming families and treated as unpaid labour, and many faced abuse. A key subtext to the programme, particularly in relation to Australia, was the aim of supplying the Commonwealth countries with sufficient “White stock”. Obviously this brings out the racist policies of the Western countries.

The US itself is being accused in the Guantanamo Bay controversy. Guantanamo Bay is an American detainment facility located in Cuba. It is highly controversial; it has been the target of numerous protests and media attacks due to its allegedly unorthodox treatment of captives. The facility is operated by a Joint Task Force of the United States Government since 2002 at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base.

Iran has criticised the US, Canada and the EU for human rights violations before the General Assembly’s Third Committee at the UN Head-quarters in New York. “Muslims and religious minorities are verbally and physically attacked and are often barred from job opportunities,” the delegation added. According to the Iranian delegation, Muslims are even deprived of performing their religious rituals in public places and are prevented from following the Islamic dress code.

The principle of universality of human rights is the cornerstone of the international human rights law. This principle, as first emphasised in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948, has been reiterated in numerous inter-national human rights conventions, declarations, and resolutions. Rights that belong to an individual as a consequence of being human are described as ‘human rights’. The term came into wide use after World War II. Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, many treaties and agreements for the protection of human rights have been concluded through the auspices of the United Nations, and several regional systems of human rights law have been established.


The 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, for example, noted that it is the duty of states to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems. Second, as in the case of any serious human rights violation, offenders must be held to account. Serious efforts must be undertaken to build a broad global coalition in support of human rights. Finally, the US Administration must abandon its earlier policy of hyper-sovereignty. Why has the Human Rights Organisation in its remained toothless and fragile? The reasons are obvious. First, the US has manipulated and tried to control this body through its vested interests in its foreign policy agenda. During the Cold War the US had supported dictators in different parts of Africa and Asia. American foreign and defence policies were geared toward containing communism, and responding to the unrealistic fear of a Soviet invasion of Europe.

In recent policy in Africa the US has once again applied the pick-and-choose policy. Obama’s trip to Ghana was intended to show its preference for Ghana because of its positive example in the areas of democracy and human rights. The US policy on democracy and human rights in Africa has tended to be quite selective, guided very much by the United States’ own perceived strategic interests. The US has been less quick to criticise some countries, such as Nigeria, Morocco or Ethiopia, which are considered strategically important to it, while condemning other countries that are less strategically crucial or have become politically or economically dispensable. Similarly, the US has failed to take the necessary steps to end the genocide in Darfur, partly as a result of the importance of the Sudanese Government to the US in terms of intelligence gathering on terrorism. Ethiopia has among the worst human rights records in Africa.

US foreign policy has taken a U-turn on the issue of human rights in China as well. The US had been accusing China for human rights abuse in Tibet. President Bill Clinton in 1993-94 and Obama in November, 2009 have acquitted China from such abuse by giving it more strategic space in South Asia and East Asia. In fact, it was a trade-off on the human rights issue.

Second, due to misuse of the Human Rights Organisation, the Third World countries lost faith in it and did not appeal against its misuse. Some of them also grossly violate the norms of human rights. A small country like Myanmar does not heed the instructions of international organisations. There are 135 ethnic and religious minority groups in Burma. These constitute almost one-third of the entire population.The Myanmar Army continues its offensive against the Karen civilians of Kayin (Karen) State and Bago (Pegu) Division. Since November 2005, when the current government offensive began, more than 140,000 Karen civilians have been killed, tortured, forcibly displaced.

There are many issues of human rights violations at different levels. Currently, child soldiers are fighting in at least 15 countries and territories, including Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), India, Iraq, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, and Uganda. Certainly, child soldiering is a global phenomenon, not simply an African one. More than 70 military organisations in 19 countries around the world recruited and used them in armed hostilities between 2004 and 2009.

There are other scores of human rights issues like child marriages and malnutrition. But the Human Rights Organisation remains ineffective. Because it is a victim of politics, being played by the Western countries. The gross violations of human rights will continue unless politics over human rights ceases to exist.

Dr Satish Kumar is a Senior Assistant Professor of Meerut University.

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