US accused of hypocrisy on human rights

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Saturday, April 05, 2003 at 7:43PM :

US accused of hypocrisy on human rights
State Department reveals double standards in annual global assessment of government treatment of citizens

By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
06 April 2003
by Independent/UK

The US State Department released its latest global report on human rights last week, inviting some ironic comment since the United States can now easily be perceived to have broken its own guidelines about the physical mistreatment of prisoners and suspension of judicial due process.

"Stress and duress" interrogation techniques condemned by the State Department as a form of torture when practised by others secret detentions, closed hearings and lack of access to lawyers or the courts have all been features of the Bush administration's "war on terror".

While the report makes no mention of al-Qa'ida suspects killed in US custody in Afghanistan or so-called "enemy combatants" being held indefinitely without trial at Guantanamo Bay, the parallels between offending foreign governments and current US practice are there.

At first glance one might think that the following statement "Police occasionally resorted to torture and physical beatings of prisoners ... The government generally did not permit prison visits by local or international human rights groups ... Arbitrary arrests and detentions continued to be problems" was describing US practices, but it is in fact a description of notoriously repressive Eritrea.

Strikingly, some of the countries lambasted by the State Department for their shoddy records Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, as well as Eritrea are also members of the "coalition of the willing" now supposedly fighting to stop repression and brutality in Iraq.

The ironies were not lost on Human Rights Watch the New York-based watchdog.

Human Rights Watch agreed that the State Department report on Friday presented a generally honest assessment of the world situation, but it added that the administration was in danger of losing its "moral clarity" because of its own lapses.

"The Bush administration has not pulled many punches in this report," HRW spokesman Tom Malinowski said. "But it should also be troubled that some of its closest allies engage in repressive practices that fuel support for terrorists." The report cut noticeable slack to certain allies, noting "improvements" in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait while holding back on emotive descriptions of those countries' failings. The Pakistani government is described as "reasonably representative", even though key parties were banned from participating in last year's elections.

Of Israel the report declared that "there were no reports of political killings during the year". However, it transpired that a certain sleight of hand was used as this refers only to Israel itself. The occupied territories are dealt with separately, much further down in the fine print, along with a caveat that the Israelis "made every effort" to avoid civilian casualties.

A further irony is that the "old Europe" which opposed the war in Iraq, notably France and Germany, get a much better bill of health on human rights than the "new Europe". Bulgaria, for example, is criticised for beatings of suspects and inmates, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and mistreatment of Romani street children.

Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, focused on some of these issues when he unveiled the report in Washington last week. "We do not believe it is inconsistent to work with nations who are willing to assist in this effort who, themselves, have some problems with respect to human rights," he said. "We candidly talk to them and encourage them to change."

He was not asked about the United States' own record, but he did say: "America is proud to serve as a force for freedom across the globe." With the emphasis, some might say, being on the word "force".

-- Sadie
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