DEC 1O is international human rights day – a day to reaffirm our commitment to the belief that all human beings, irrespective of race, religion, or gender, are entitled to equal worth and dignity. Human rights are not given to us by the charity or generosity of the state. They are inherent in our human condition and are bequeathed to us directly by the hand of God.
Dec 10 is also a day to remind ourselves that with rights come responsibilities. A deeper understanding of the concept of freedom involves respecting others’ rights as much as knowing our own. The first function of freedom is to free someone else.
Regrettably, in much of Asia and Africa the international rhetoric of human rights rings hollow and arouses much scepticism and anger. The perception is that the mantra of “democracy” and “human rights” is nothing but a monumental deception to perpetuate the hegemony of the North Atlantic nations over “the lesser people” of Asia and Africa.
There is much evidence to justify this unmistakable perception.
Fomenting war: Many nations of the West are addicted to war and need to wage continuous battles to keep their military-industrial complex humming. The US, for example, invaded Indo-China in the 60s and killed, maimed and scarred millions of people. It has bombed 30 countries since World War II. Its ongoing illegal drone attacks blow up “enemy combatants” around the world with sickening regularity.
In the last decade itself, the US and its partners resorted to full scale invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq on trumped up charges plus bombing of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria. An American missile downed an Iranian civilian plane over the Atlantic killing all on board.
The US and its European allies resort to massive bombings, issue nuclear threats, effectuate devastating invasions and regime changes against mostly Asian, African and Latin American nations on the justification that human rights violations have to be stopped through “humanitarian intervention”.
The book by Adam Jones, Genocide, War Crimes and the West: History and Complicity (2005) rightly points to the Himalayan hypocrisy of western humanitarianism.
Besides the US, France is notable for its military interventions in its former colonies of Algeria, Mali and Central African Republic. In Yemen, Libya, Syria and Ukraine Western proxies are in the forefront of Western initiated civil wars. The US and the UK are in the forefront of support for Israel’s dehumanisation of the Palestinians.
Complicity in genocide: Case studies point to Germany’s abuses against the Herero in SW Africa; French atrocities in Algeria; US and European complicity in the 67-year old genocide against the Palestinians; US war crimes in Indo-China, Congo/Zaire, Chile, Bangladesh, Central America, Iraq, Somalia, Liberia and Yugoslavia; the Dutch complicity in the massacres in Srebrenica; and the role of the West and the Western controlled Security Council in the Rwandan holocaust of 1994.
At the moment of writing the USA, European Union and their Gulf allies are funding terrorists to overthrow the Syrian government. The so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) is a Western invention to keep the region in turmoil. The breathtaking hypocrisy of both funding the IS and raining bombs on its strongholds is not a new phenomenon (the US supplied arms to both Iraq and Iran to destroy each other) but must be exposed.
Propping up dictators: Despite their professed belief in democracy, Washington and the EU have a shameful record of collaborating with right wing military officers to overthrow elected leaders who do not do the West’s economic and political bidding. A partial list would include Mossadegh in Iran (1953), Arbez in Guatemala (1954), Allende in Chile (1973), Aristide in Haiti twice, Chavez in Venezuela (2002), Zelaya in Honduras (2009), Morsi in Eypt (2013) and Yankovych in Ukraine (2014).
In Cambodia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, undemocratic regimes are wholeheartedly supported because they succumb to the Western agenda at the expense of their own people.
Structural injustices: Add to the above military horrors, the structural violence and oppressive economic systems of the West that keep our economies shackled. No wonder the panic in the USA and Europe about Chinese efforts to provide alternative credit institutions to the third world.
Selective sanctions: The US and EU employ trade and aid as levers to force compliance with their oppressive economic policies. They selectively impose sanctions causing death and of suffering to millions. The inhumanity of sanctions against Iran for its international law right to develop nuclear energy is a case in point.
Along with the USA, the EU punishes a host of coloured states including China, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Yemen, Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Congo, Eritrea, Somalia and Sri Lanka. But it applies a gross double standard to the genocidal, apartheid state of Israel.
International agencies: Many human rights agencies including the International Criminal Court (ICC), the UN Security Council, the Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights are selective about their commemorations and condemnations. Mass murderers in the USA, Israel, UK and France appear absolutely immune from international sanctions. For example the ICC has ruled repeatedly that there is “insufficient evidence” for it to investigate Israel for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Bush, Blair, Cheney and Rumsfeld have not been prosecuted for their lies and deceptions that led to the loss of thousands, possibly millions, of lives in the devastation of Iraq. The US and EU are guilty of massive deceptions and crimes of violence in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
As long as a culture of impunity surrounds the pernicious crimes of the “liberal democracies” of the West, there will always be skepticism and disbelief about the hoity toity, condescending charade of human rights that spews forth periodically from the West. Many of us are not convinced when Tyranosaurus Rex preaches to us about the virtues of vegetarianism.
Nevertheless we Asians should not turn our back to the human rights quest. While exposing the massive hypocrisies of the West, we need to put our own houses in order. The quest for rights and dignity for all is a moral, religious and legal duty.
Shad Saleem Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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