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Spring 2011 - Article by Rajiv Thind
The Subjective Nature of International Human Rights

What do China, Burma (Myanmar), North Korea, Iran and Vladimir Putin’s Russia have in common? It is a widely known fact that the ruling elites and regimes in these countries are gross human and civil rights violators. We know this because we are reminded about it constantly by Western international news media in print, broadcast and other digital forms. But it is not a coincidence that these countries and their regimes also happen to be major adversaries of most of the Western governments— especially the United States, UK and Western Europe—who also leave no opportunity to voice their opinion against human rights violations in these countries.

In our modern enlightened age we find it more accepting of the fact that we human beings belong to the same species or human family. Liberty and dignity of all human beings on this planet must have the same value. Echoing the same ideals, Thomas Jefferson, for example, eloquently proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness.’ It is safe to assume that by ‘men’ (all human beings by implication) he did not mean only Caucasian American men born at the time. These human rights and dignity must extend universally to every member of the human species at all times. They cannot be the privileges of the few.

Indeed in Western countries today, by and large, all citizens enjoy these freedoms and civil liberties. Inspired by these very ideals, Western countries, especially the United States, have made it their mission to speak out against human and civil rights abuses anywhere in the world. That is indeed a very noble thing to do, only if this advocacy was not so unabashedly aligned with narrow self-interests, foreign policy goals and strategic considerations.

To begin rather obviously, one may question, why Mr. George W. Bush and his administration wanted to spread ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ only to Iraq? Why not also in other violent, anarchic and chaotic countries of Sub-Saharan Africa? But then again, Iraq campaign was largely a military one, costing American tax payers trillions of dollars. Also, the American people were more likely to support military intervention in Iraq in the aftermath of September 11 terrorist attacks, than, say, in places like Somalia, Darfur or Rwanda. But, government advocacy of human rights violations does not cost huge money, resources or lives as in military campaigns. All it requires is political Will, moral courage and conscience.

It only does great disservice to human freedom and dignity if— because of foreign policy considerations— specific regions of the world are so magnified that other places where flagrant human rights abuses rage everyday get ignored. Because Western governments and institutions (no less noble than the Nobel Prize Committee) keep focusing on countries like China and Iran, Western media give them overwhelming coverage at the expense of obscuring human and civil rights violations in other countries many of which, by the way, are considered Western allies or are countries Western foreign policies are simply indifferent to.

As recent examples of obviously ignored countries think about torture and persecution of certain sections of society by police and military in countries like Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan. The countries where consistent persecution and repression of women and sexual minorities by state and non state agents is rampant are too many too name. Yet, we rarely hear about them because they don’t make interesting news. It is farcical, yet realistic, to imagine that the repressed and persecuted people in these countries must pray to the Almighty that the ruling elites in these countries fall out with NATO states, so that their miseries will be heard amply.

There are a few notable exceptions, of course. The American State Department’s annual reports on international human rights are fairly objective and comprehensive, and deserve applause. International governments, institutions and media should follow the same standard and criteria when they expose and speak out against human and civil rights violations in any part of the world.

We owe it to the persecuted fellow human beings who are ignored by the foreign policies and strategic interests of a few countries or organizations. We also owe it to our conscience and our shared humanity.



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