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Can us claim moral high ground on human right abuses


The Bush administration issued its annual report titled
"Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" that contains the human rights record of 196 countries, including an assessment of Bangladesh's human rights record. 
It portrays a worsening record of human rights for Bangladesh, stating: "Poor human rights record worsened and the government continued to commit numerous abuses." Referring to the RAB action, the report says: "The Rab and security forces committed human rights abuses and were rarely disciplined, even for egregious actions. Security forces committed a number of extra-judicial killings." 

On the judiciary, the report states: "Lower judicial officers were reluctant to challenge government decisions and suffered from corruption … the higher levels of judiciary displayed some degree of independence and often ruled against the government."

China and many Latin American countries have also been subject to criticism for their human rights record.

Critics' views
Questions have been raised in different quarters as to whether the US has objectively assessed the record or has been influenced by its political motivation.

Deputy Director of the Washington Office on Latin America, Kimberly Stanton said that: "The credibility of these reports depends upon a coherent and objective analysis. This year, the political priorities of the US government affected the evaluation of the data in some cases."

For example, Stanton said Venezuela was criticized for its human record while the right-wing conservative regime of Columbia has been given a positive treatment, although everyone knows that the President of Colombia has curtailed the liberty of its citizens. On Ecuador, Stanton said that the report "barely mentioned" a purge of the Supreme Court, a devastating blow to the independence of the judiciary.

A Chinese spokesperson reportedly said that "I would like to take this opportunity to make the point that the US should stop using double standards on human rights issues."

Moral high ground?
Besides the allegations of lack of objectivity and political motivations of the report, one fact that merits attention is whether the US under the Bush administration can claim the moral ground on human rights abuses.

Many human rights activists state that the Bush administration at least cannot talk about abuses of human rights record of other countries, when in recent years, its forces have committed dreadful human right abuses on Iraqis and Afghanis with impunity. The scandal at Abu Ghraib prison by the US forces in Iraq is well publicised, so also its treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. 

The Bush administration's unfettered power in approving gross human rights abuses on the detainees has been horrendous and some of the detainees from the Guantanomo Bay have been released after three years without any charge whatsoever. Iraqi prisoners were not denied the protection of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Prisoner of War. Such gross violations go against all canons of international law.

Who is arming human rights abusers? 
One may easily argue that the US has been responsible in arming many human rights abusers. The US is the largest seller of weapons to developing countries. Amnesty International in 2000 released a report, "A Catalogue of Failures: G-8 Arms Exports and Human Rights Violations" called on the big powers to make public the name of companies that supply weapons to countries accused of gross human rights violations. 

Although there is a protocol that the weapons should not be used for abuse of human rights, the compliance of protocol has been either totally ineffective or overlooked. It is common knowledge that weapons thus acquired, are often used by leaders of many developing countries, to suppress discontent arising from legitimate demands by citizens, political opponents and critics of government.

Mother of all human rights abuses
The most important dimension of violation of human rights that is often forgotten is the existence of poverty.

It is acknowledged that poverty is the mother of all human rights violations. The horror of poverty was highlighted by the UN Secretary General on October 17, in observance of International Day for Eradication of Poverty. He stated: "How many times have we said that poverty was incompatible with human dignity." 

Big powers including the US ignore the growing denial of basic human rights due to poverty. They perceive human rights only as political rights, not as economic or development rights. Bread and liberty are the two sides of the same coin. Deprivation of either must inevitably damage the foundation of the other. That means one cannot separate the two dimensions of social fabric as the sun cannot be separated from sunlight.

And what is the record of aid assistance to fight poverty by the Bush administration? While the Bush administration has earmarked defence expenditure for 2004 of nearly 

$400 billion, besides the war expenses on Iraq and Afghanistan, the foreign aid to remove poverty has been very meager. It is the lowest of any developed country as it spends 0.14 percent, much less than 0.7 per cent of GDP as recommended by the UN. It is estimated that to cut hunger and poverty in half by 2015, only $50 billion a year in aid is required.

On September 20 last, a summit against hunger and poverty was held at the UN in New York. Its final declaration was signed by 113 countries and declared: "There is enough knowledge and resources in the world to free us from hunger and poverty." But the US refused to sign the declaration.

If Washington wants credibility of its report on human rights abuses, the Bush administration needs to think seriously: (a) who has been the gross violators of human rights in the last two years, (b) who are the seller of arms to the countries, accused of human rights abuses? And (c) what is the allocation of their budget for poverty alleviation across the globe ? 

The Bush administration cannot criticize others on human rights abuses because it is guilty of gross violations to many people in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the so-called "land of freedom and liberty" is to be truly respected, then it must recognize that human rights apply universally.