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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Does the US Value Human Rights?

‘Stalking from home to home, a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan early on Sunday, igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility, Afghan and American officials said,‘ the New York Times reported Sunday.
In one of the most gruesome human rights abuses in recent times, a US soldier is reported to have walked over a mile (1.6 km) from his base in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province trying door after door before breaking into three houses and killing16 sleeping civilians, nine of whom were children. Reports quote villagers as saying that he had collected 11 of the bodies and set fire to them.
Sadly, this is only the latest in a string of violations of international humanitarian law by US forces stretching back several years.
Earlier this month, five American servicemen and an Afghan translator were reported to have burned copies of the Quran which were among religious materials seized from a detainee facility at Bagram Airfield, prompting a wave of outrage.
Abu Ghraib prison from where many abuses were reported was one of the greatest embarrassments for the US government. Among the allegations of abuses was the sexual harassment of prisoners and the frightening of prisoners with dogs and even having them bite some prisoners. Many other instances of appalling abuses are believed to have been suppressed and kept secret even from the Congress.
However, the most infamous and controversial is perhaps the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. A senior US government official who investigated practices at the camp admitted that a detainee had been tortured. In July 2010 the Washington Times reported that, ‘Like its 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld decision, the Supreme Court’s Hamdan ruling affirms that the United States is engaged in a legally cognizable armed conflict to which the laws of war apply. It may hold captured al Qaeda and Taliban operatives throughout that conflict, without granting them a criminal trial, and is also entitled to try them in the military justice system — including by military commission.’
The ruling did not deter US forces from killing an unarmed Osama Bin Laden following an unauthorised foray into Abbottabad in Pakistan earning the outrage of the Pakistani government and others who value international humanitarian law. Internationallaw expert Kai Ambos writing in Der Spiegel says, “A targeted killing of a terrorist does not, contrary to what US President Barack Obama has suggested, do a service to justice; rather, it runs contrary to it. A state governed by the rule of law, treats even its enemies humanely.”
The operation which also killed bin Laden’s son also injured or killed his youngest wife who was trying to shield him from the US attack force. The entire operationviolating international humanitarian law was watched by President Obama and hissenior advisers ‘in real time’.
The US however, maintains high moral ground at all times. The US State Department on its website states: Promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world are central to U.S. foreign policy. The values captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other global and regional commitments are consistent with the values upon which the United States was founded centuries ago. On the same page, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is quoted saying, “In democracies, respecting rights isn’t a choice leaders make day-by-day, it is the reason they govern."
The US has increasingly come in for severe criticism for violating its international obligations and continued human rights abuses. Last year, China said, “The United States is beset by violence, racism and torture and has no authority to condemn other governments' human rights problems.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry statement followed US criticism of China’s human rights record. A Reuters report quoted a report published by China’s official news agency Xinhua saying, "Stop the domineering behaviour of exploiting human rights to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries."
The long drawn out row between China and the United States on each other’s’ human rights record intensified in 1998 when China first published what has since become an annual publication titled, Human Rights Record of the United States.
The UN Human Rights Council’s 19th Session in Geneva heard pious pronouncements from H.E. Ms. Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights of the United States of America. “When the United States joined the UN Human Rights Council two years ago, we set forth four values that would guide our work in this body: universality, dialogue, principle, and truth.  We knew then, as we know now, that the honest dialogue and dedicated effort of this Council will help all of our nations on the path to international peace and security.”
Making a plea for a second term on the Council she said, “In the two years since, we have stayed true to those values.  But our global challenges remain—among them, threats to freedoms of assembly, association, expression and religion and to vulnerable populations.  As we seek a second term on the Council, the United States stands ready to build on the Council’s successes to pursue solutions to these pressing challenges.”
How true has the US been to those values? Not very I’m afraid.
Human rights abuses by the US have been consistent with the regular use of force against various countries.
The arming of rebels and the aggression committed by NATO forces covered by a see-thru UN resolution in Libya ensured the unseating of the oil-rich country’s long-time ruler Muammar Gadhafi. Videos showing him captured alive and dead thereafter with wounds on his body were compounded by the sadistic display of the body in a vegetable display refrigerator without giving a speedy burial according to Islamic custom.
The US is in the forefront of criticism of the Assad regime in Syria. The lack of any criticism of the rebel forces shows up US foreign policy in Syria for what it really is.
The bottom line is that rebels sponsored by various governments in the name of democracy remain free to violate human rights with impunity.
Earlier this year, IHR Law reported how family members of Iraqi civilians killed by Blackwater had agreed to a settlement. Seventeen Iraqis died in the incident when Blackwater security guards escorting an American envoy in Baghdad fired on civilians on a busy street. Iraqi victims later spoke about the horrors of that day.
The U.S. killed American citizen Anwar Awlaki last year and followed up by killing his son too. Americans have been angered by the lack of due process and the killing of a child but mostly by Attorney General Holder’s defence of the actions.
The United States also has been using its seat in the UNHRC to pressure smaller countries like Sri Lanka to achieve their agenda. The current pressure on this small Indian Ocean Island to implement an internal government report is such an instance. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is an indigenous mechanism initiated by the government of Sri Lanka as part of its overall reconciliation and normalisation effort following the end of the conflict in 2009. It was not initiated following international pressure. To call upon the Sri Lankan government to implement same is much like asking the USA to investigate and prosecute the soldier who killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan.
The United States would need moral authority to police the world. They would need also to ensure that justice is not only done but must also seem to be done. It is a pity that the United States uses double standards with regard to human rights. The world needs to know whether the US remains true to its commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or whether the soldiers who urinated on dead bodies were reflecting US policy on human rights. END.
(Follow the writer on Twitter: @Panhinda)

In Words

Loved and mentored by parents with values and discipline and a passion for good English; guided by teachers who wouldn't spare the rod to ensure excellence; copywriter; on-line journalist; editor-in-chief; and at long last, giving into the passion; Freelance Writer.

Nurtured in advertising and PR from freelance copywriter to account director and agency head; engaged throughout to humanitarian work in NGOs including the Red Cross and the UNDP; and experienced in both public and private sectors.

Looking forward to a future of writing on diverse subjects; sharing knowledge and experience; enriching the lives of others; but most of all, acquiring more knowledge and using it to make the world a better place for all.

More of my writing:
* Fuelling the Peace Process * Concepts for decentralisation of government * PEACE: Is it still an elusive dream? * Interview with the late Major General Trond Furuhovde first Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission * How polar bears are affected by global warming * Red Cross takes lead in clean water for Sri Lanka flood victims * The poorest hardest hit by Sri Lanka floods *