Report Condemns Widespread Tolerance for TorturersEnglish, Headlines, Human Rights, IBSA-featured Monday, January 24th, 2011
By Aprille Muscara
WASHINGTON, Jan 24, 2011 (IPS) – The international community – from Western authorities to Southern powers – lacks courage and hides behind “soft diplomacy” in confronting human rights abusers, a leading rights group accuses in a 649-page world report released Monday.
In its annual flagship publication, Human Rights Watch slams world leaders and global institutions for “simply feigning serious participation” and “ongoing concern” for human rights, claiming that these “expected champions” use rhetoric as substitutes for concerted action.
“The quest for dialogue and cooperation becomes a charade designed more to appease critics of complacency than to secure change,” wrote Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, in the report’s introduction.
Among the guilty, Roth name-dropped multilateral organisations like ASEAN, the European Union and the United Nations as well as leaders like U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, E.U. high representative Catherine Ashton, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“The secretary-general’s view is that diplomacy and public pressure are not mutually exclusive,” a spokesperson for Ban said Monday, defending against criticisms that the world body’s head is not outspoken enough against countries with deplorable rights records like Burma, China and Sri Lanka.
Prominent developing countries were also targeted for their timid responses to their rights-abusing neighbours.
“Brazil, India, and South Africa, strong and vibrant democracies at home, remain unsupportive of many human rights initiatives abroad, even though each benefitted from international solidarity in its struggle to end, respectively, dictatorship, colonization, and apartheid,” the publication stated.
“The international community, particularly democratic states from North and South, has an obligation to protect and promote human rights,” Ted Piccone, senior fellow and deputy director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, told IPS. “They have influence and should exert it through a range of measures, from dialogue and cooperation to public criticism and sanctions.”
IBSA are urged in the report to use their standing as leading Southern capitals to do more to protect individuals from repression by “less progressive governments”.
“Their foreign policies are often based on building South- South political and economic ties and are bolstered by reference to Western double standards, but these rationales do not justify these emerging powers turning their backs on people who have not yet won the rights that their own citizens enjoy,” the report states.
The publication also highlights timing as key for IBSA, as all three are current members of the U.N. Security Council. Historically, the council has shied away from tackling human rights directly, with some claiming that the issue does not fall under the body’s mandate of maintaining international peace and security.
Rights advocates, on the other hand, have long argued that human rights abuses are often intimately tied to the council’s agenda.
These sorts of “excuses”, the report claims, are used to demote human rights concerns. Economic growth and development, humanitarian emergencies, the desire to build good will and abuses conducted at home are also reasons given for countries’ reluctance to promote human rights more vigorously and condemn others’ oppression.
For instance, the U.S., among others, is accused of being selective in pressuring those with poor rights records depending on its strategic and economic interests in the country, letting partners like Bahrain, India and Indonesia off relatively easy. The U.S.’s own “tolerance of torture and arbitrary detention in combating terrorism” is also criticised in the report.
“The shifting global balance of power (particularly the rise of China), an intensified competition for markets and natural resources at a time of economic turmoil, and the decline in moral standing of Western powers occasioned by their use with impunity of abusive counterterrorism techniques have made many governments less willing to take a strong public stand in favor of human rights,” the publication states.
The report argues that concerted international pressure can help bring change to these loci of repression, from Rwanda to Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia to Cambodia, Roma neighbourhoods to Guantanamo.
But public pronouncements of seeking “dialogue” and “cooperation” with these parties are not enough, the report claims – tactics like outright denunciations, conditional access to aid and targeted sanctions should be used to pressure these known abusers.
“When the parties directly responsible for human rights abuses refuse to cooperate or deny the facts, then the wider international community should take up the cause,” Piccone told IPS. “In many cases, international pressure is the catalysing force behind a change in a regime’s behaviour.”
“It also makes a difference for human rights victims and defenders on the ground who are often threatened to stay silent,” he said. “On the flip side, failure to pressure a government may lead to continued repression.”
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