Hypocrisy in human rights

I almost passed over this story from the BBC about China’s government complaining about a United States State Department human rights report.[1] I don’t mean to sound old, but I’ve only seen something like this story several dozen times over a few dozen years, in which the U.S. criticizes the human rights record of other countries and other countries tell the U.S. to mind its own business.

It is worth noting that China has half a point. On behalf of his government, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei “advise[d] the US side to reflect on its own human rights issues and not to position itself as a preacher of human rights.”[2]

Such a reflection is long overdue. For starters, we should recognize the full complement of rights offered in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which by virtue of the supremacy of treaties in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution and the recognition of unenumerated rights in the Ninth Amendment should have full legal force in the United States but which are largely ignored or suppressed. Having been unemployed for nearly two years, with no unemployment insurance, I’m particularly fond of Article 23[3]:

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

And as poverty increases[4] and the U.S. social safety net is further eroded,[5] Article 25 is also worth pointing out[6]:

  • (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  • (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

In the conclusion to his book documenting how the criminal injustice system in the United States demonizes the poor—particularly those of color—and excuses the rich at every step of the process, from what actions committed by whom a powerful group of mostly wealthy white males chooses to criminalize, to which crimes get investigated, to who is suspected, arrested, charged, convicted, imprisoned for how long, and who has a possibility of parole, Jeffrey Reiman writes that “the criminal justice system is morally indistinguishable from criminality insofar as it exercises force and imposes suffering on human beings while violating its own morally justifying ideals: protection and justice.” He offers eight steps, “not . . . as a means of improving the system” but “as the necessary requirements for establishing the criminal justice system’s moral difference from, and moral superiority to, crime.”[7] They include ending poverty, criminalizing only conduct which is actually harmful to society and punishing it accordingly, treating drugs as a medical rather than a criminal problem, instituting programs to give prisoners a reasonable chance of gaining employment when they are released and of avoiding future criminal conduct, controlling guns, making the right to counsel meaningful, and reducing the gap between rich and poor.[8] But instead, the U.S. incarcerates more people—both in aggregate and as a proportion of its total population—than any other country in the world.[9]

Philip Zimbardo, who ran the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, in a book pointing to the “power of the situation” in creating horrific prison conditions, squarely blames the Bush administration for creating that situation at Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo.[10] But those conditions also exist at secret U.S. jails in Afghanistan where abuses continue even after Barack Obama supposedly banned torture.[11]

Then there’s the continuing matter of our endless wars and interventions that have engaged our military in all but sixteen years of our history since 1775.[12] It’s impossible in asymmetric conflict, where an insurgency faces a technologically far-superior power, for the latter to avoid atrocities that historically have turned the tide of world opinion against colonizers. Such wars are thus inherently criminal under international law, but in addition, we support Israel not only in such acts as Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip but in a blockade of that territory that is in contradiction to the obligations of occupying powers.[13] Reports of Israeli abuses in the West Bank are so common I’m frankly at a loss as to how to begin citing sources. And even Obama has acknowledged that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict costs the U.S. “significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”[14] This conflict cyclically generates asymmetric war after asymmetric war as our crusades continue both overtly and covertly.[15] What Obama—and our entire power elite—fail to acknowledge is how phony our outrage is when distant wars come home, as with the 9/11 attacks in the United States and with the July 7 attack in London,[16] and particularly when these attacks serve as excuses for yet more wars, violating the rights of ever more humans.

Such a record is merely compounded by such abuses as the PATRIOT Act and endemic surveillance. It now seems quite impossible to distinguish the United States from a fascist police state.[17] And so I am absolutely bewildered by this latest instance of supreme hypocrisy, in which the U.S. has the unmitigated gall, the chutzpah to call out other governments for their human rights records.

  1. [1]BBC News, “China tells US: Stop preaching on human rights,” April 9, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13027427
  2. [2]BBC News, “China tells US,” April 9, 2011.
  3. [3]United Nations, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” December 10, 1948, http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml
  4. [4]Hope Yen and Liz Sidoti, “US poverty on track to post record gain in 2009,” Associated Press, September 11, 2010, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hrI16Lcca0yq7kpyqoCVECFHnjIQD9I5PQJ80
  5. [5]Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim, “The Poorhouse: Aunt Winnie, Glenn Beck, And The Politics Of The New Deal,” Huffington Post, December 29, 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/29/the-poorhouse-aunt-winnie_n_802338.html; Peter Edelman and Barbara Ehrenreich, “Why welfare reform has failed,” Washington Post, December 6, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/04/AR2009120402604.html; David Leonhardt, “Opposition to Health Law Is Steeped in Tradition,” New York Times, December 14, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/15/business/economy/15leonhardt.html; Stephanie Mencimer, “The Depressing State of Our Safety Net,” Mother Jones, September 3, 2010, http://motherjones.com/mojo/2010/09/few-poor-women-getting-aid-during-recession; Alex Pareene, “Bill Clinton peeved that Rachel Maddow called him a Republican,” Salon, September 14, 2010, http://www.salon.com/news/bill_clinton/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2010/09/14/clinton_maddow; Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Why Wall St. Is Deserting Obama,” New York Times, August 30, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/31/business/31sorkin.html
  6. [6]United Nations, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
  7. [7]Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Pearson, 2004), 188-189.
  8. [8]Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and The Poor Get Prison.
  9. [9]International Centre for Prison Studies, “World Prison Brief,” King’s College London, March 18, 2010, http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/worldbrief/wpb_stats.php
  10. [10]Philip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (New York: Random House, 2008).
  11. [11]Associated Press, “Terror suspects held weeks in secret,” April 8, 2011, http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5inXvzBUlQMp9EAcENJMNqKKKcmwA?docId=5192d819def741c685df0083adf4c491; Anand Gopal, “America’s Secret Afghan Prisons,” The Nation, January 28, 2010, http://www.thenation.com/article/americas-secret-afghan-prisons
  12. [12]David Benfell, “A peace loving nation,” DisUnitedStates.org, October 18, 2009, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=738
  13. [13]David Benfell, “Goldstone caves,” DisUnitedStates.org, April 5, 2011, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=2294; United Nations, “The International Human Rights System 11/11″ [2004], http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/comp210.htm
  14. [14]Barack Obama, “Press Conference by the President at the Nuclear Security Summit,” White House, October 11, 2010, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/press-conference-president-nuclear-security-summit
  15. [15]David Benfell, “With allies like Israel, who needs enemies?” DisUnitedStates.org, March 9, 2010, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=1531; Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe, “U.S. ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role,” Washington Post, June 4, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/03/AR2010060304965.html; Jeremy Scahill, “Obama’s Expanding Covert Wars,” Nation, June 4, 2010, http://www.thenation.com/blog/obamas-expanding-covert-wars; Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti, and Robert F. Worth, “Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents,” New York Times, August 14, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/world/15shadowwar.html
  16. [16]Robert Fisk, “The reality of this barbaric bombing,” Independent, July 8, 2005, http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-the-reality-of-this-barbaric-bombing-497971.html
  17. [17]David Benfell, “We have arrived,” DisUnitedStates.org, June 23, 2010, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=1943; Gonzalo Lira, “Is the U.S. a Fascist Police-State?” June 22, 2010, http://gonzalolira.blogspot.com/2010/06/is-us-fascist-police-state.html; Sara Robinson, “Fascist America: Are We There Yet?” Campaign for America’s Future, August 6, 2009, http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009083205/fascist-america-are-we-there-yet

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