When human rights and democracy are used as political tools

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The promotion of democracy and human rights will only be credible on the day when deficiencies will be stressed everywhere, without exception, and when they encompass economic and social rights as well as political rights. Reuters

In many cases, human rights defenders only focus on political rights and forget about massive violations of economic and social rights by governments and also corporations. And what about sanctions from the West that further destroy the economic and social rights of citizens of targeted countries? Thomas Fowler comments.

The Western world sees the political and economic ambitions of countries beyond its control as a threat. It uses the discourse on democracy and human rights to discredit these countries. It is not a question of coming to the aid of the unfortunate who suffer from the arbitrary and serious violation of their fundamental rights.

It is simply the pretext because Westerners are silent when democracy and human rights are flouted in countries providing strategic materials or good clients for US or EU arms suppliers. For example, nothing is said to Saudi Arabia or Egypt. This is the Western strategy of human rights “à la carte”, depending on the opportunities. A double standard strategy.

By arrogating to themselves a stature of moral authority, Western countries denounce, criticise and condemn. They enjoy appropriate tools to launch their selective smear campaigns and to discredit the governments which do not satisfy their interests.

The major US tool: the NED

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is an institution created by Ronald Reagan. It is funded by the US Congress in the budget of the State Department. The International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute of International Affairs are among the main beneficiary organizations, but there are also dozens of associations and political orga-nisations in various countries all over the world that are supported by the NED. The official goal is to foster democracy, political pluralism, freedom of expression and association.

Mr Reagan himself is said to have confided that he wanted the NED to “openly do what the CIA used to do secretly”. It was confirmed by the NED’s first president, Allen Weinstein, who told the Washington Post, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

According to Congressman Ron Paul, the NED has “very little to do with democracy. It is an organisation that uses US tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favoured political parties or movements overseas. It underwrites colour-coded ‘people’s revolutions’ overseas that look more like pages out of Lenin’s writings on stealing power than genuine indigenous democratic movements.”

It turns out that NED money has helped finance, through its main beneficiaries, many groups whose goal was to overthrow a government that did not please Washington. On behalf of democracy and human rights, indeed!

The list of NED beneficiary organisations clearly indicates the objectives pursued: all the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics, in particular Ukraine, but also in Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela. A large number of NED-funded organizations target China (with a focus on Tibet and Xinjiang province and its Uyghur people), Iran, Lebanon and, among others, Cambodia.

Radio Free Asia, created in 1950 by the CIA, is now funded by NED. The same is true with Voice of America. These two radio stations are US government instruments whose objective is to support opponents of regimes that do not please the US. They have nothing to do with free, independent journalism, with freedom of expression. They claim to defend free speech, but as a way to broadcast biased information. RFA and VOA are not independent media.

An NGO tool: Human Rights Watch (HRW)

With Amnesty International, HRW is the largest international human rights NGO. But it’s also the most controversial.

Ironically, its founder himself, Robert Bernstein, accused the organisation of poor research methods and relying on “witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers.”

On August 21, 2009, ninety-three academics and authors from the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Colombia and other countries published an open letter criticizing HRW’s “absence of statements and reports” on human rights violations, following the June 28 coup d’état in Honduras (that enjoyed the support of then secretary of state Hilary Clinton, as she admitted in her 2014 book).

According to its authors, HRW had not “raised the alarm over the extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detentions, physical assaults, and attacks on the press – many of which have been thoroughly documented – that have occurred in Honduras, in most cases by the coup regime against the supporters of the democratic and constitutional government of Manuel Zelaya”. HRW never called for the restoration of the democratically elected president.

On May 12, 2014, an open letter was published by Nobel Peace Laureates Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Corrigan criticising HRW for its close ties to the US government. The letter was also signed by over 100 scholars and cultural figures. The letter highlighted a number of Human Rights Watch officials who had been involved in foreign policy roles in the US government, including special advisers to senior officials in the Clinton Administration.

Since 1997, all the HRW reports on Cambodia, written by Brad Adams, have been biased and unbalanced. On July 5 and 6, 1997, there were violent and deadly clashes between troops loyal to then First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and those loyal to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen. Without making the slightest inquiry and without questioning the two camps, on the evening of the first day, Mr Adams asserted, from the bar of the Cambodiana Hotel where he took refuge like all the foreigners, that it was “a coup orchestrated by Hun Sen”.

Circulated around the world, the report he wrote for HRW became the official version accredited by almost every Western chancelleries. But very quickly, many clues have given credence to the version presented by Mr Hun Sen and the CPP: the military action undertaken was to prevent a coup to be hatched by Prince Ranariddh negotiating with the Khmer Rouge with the aim of overthrowing the Funcinpec – CPP government coalition, appointed after the 1993 elections, and replacing it with a new power-sharing – this time between Prince Ranariddh’s party and Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.

This version was for months disputed by the US. But the archives discovered during the fall of the last Khmer Rouge stronghold and the research by American intelligence convinced Washington. Nevertheless, even today, HRW reports repeat Brad Adams’ wrong story that Mr Hun Sen put an end to democracy in Cambodia in 1997. Unfortunately, this fable is shared by many governments and journalists who trust this source.

To give weight to his systematic attacks on the head of the Cambodian government, Mr Adams misses no opportunity to suggest that Prime Minister Hun Sen was one of the leaders of the Pol Pot regime and that he shares the responsibility for crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated between 1975 and 1979. Even the CIA knows that this is false and that nothing can be blamed on Mr Hun Sen for the 26 months he spent under Democratic Kampuchea before fleeing in June 1977 to Vietnam to seek help from this neighbouring country with a view to ending the Pol Pot regime.

But US policy towards Cambodia fluctuates between collaboration with the authorities and willingness to change the regime. In the State Department and Congress, it is the Cambodian opposition that is favored by decision-makers. With public money from the NED, nothing is neglected to encourage the overthrow of the Hun Sen government. It is therefore the task of HRW, through its tendentious reports, to provide the argumentation to justify this reversal. As it happened in Honduras, but also in Ukraine and the Balkans.

It is no doubt that HRW is closely aligned with US foreign policy. As a result, the defense of human rights is misguided in favour of US political interests. Those who quote HRW reports should remember they peddle biased information.

In many cases, human rights defenders only focus on political rights and forget about massive violations of economic and social rights by governments and also corporations. Even international agreements abrogate economic and social rights, like those made in the name of unbridled free trade. And what about sanctions from the West that further destroy the economic and social rights of citizens of targeted countries?

The promotion of democracy and human rights will only be credible on the day when deficiencies will be stressed everywhere, without exception, and when they encompass economic and social rights as well as political rights.

But even if this ends the double standard: one issue will still remain – the conflict between the universality of human rights and the sovereignty of states. The principle of universality represents a great advance in the history of humanity. But it has opened the way to the right of interference, the use of which has so far been very debatable. We will come back to this in an upcoming commentary.

Thomas Fowler is a Cambodia watcher based in Phnom Penh.

 

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