AFRICANGLOBE – In his 1981 farewell speech, President Jimmy Carter said, “America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it is the other way round. Human rights invented America.”
In a New York Times op-ed piece in June 2012, Carter cautioned, “At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But instead of making the world safer, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends.”
Carter also raised a number of important questions: Has the U.S. abdicated its moral leadership in the arena of international human rights? Has the U.S. betrayed its core values by maintaining a detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and subjecting dozens of prisoners to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and leaving them without the “prospect of ever obtaining their freedom”? Does the arbitrary killing of a person suspected to be an enemy terrorist in a drone strike along with women and children who happen to be nearby comport with America’s professed commitment to the rule of law and human rights?
In 1948, the U.S. played a central leadership role in “inventing” the principal instrument which today serves as the bedrock foundation of modern human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1948, set a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations” in terms of equality, dignity and rights. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the committee that drafted the UDHR. Eleanor remains an unsung heroine even though she was the mother of the modern global human rights movement. Without her, there would have been no UDHR; and without the UDHR, it is doubtful that the plethora of subsequent human rights conventions and regimes would have come into existence. Remarkably, she managed to mobilize, organize and proselytize human rights even though she had no legal training, diplomatic experience or bureaucratic expertise. She used her skills as political activist and advocate in the cause of freedom, justice and civil rights to work for global human rights.
Is America Disinventing Human Rights?
It seems the U.S. is “disinventing” human rights through the pursuit of double (triple, quadruple) standard of human rights policy wrapped in a cover of diplocrisy. In Africa, the U.S. has one set of standards for Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan. Mugabe and Bashir are classified as the nasty hombres of human rights in Africa. The U.S. has targeted both governments for crippling economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure. The U.S. has frozen the assets of Mugabe’s family and henchmen because the “Mugabe regime rules through politically motivated violence and intimidation and has triggered the collapse of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.”
The U.S. calls “partners” equally brutal regimes in Africa which serve as its proxies. Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yuweri Museveni of Uganda and the deceased leader of the regime in Ethiopia are lauded as the “new breed of African leaders” and crowned “partners”. Uhuru Kenyatta, recently elected president of Kenya and a suspect under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity is said to be different than Bashir who faces similar ICC charges. In 2009, Ambassador Susan E. Rice, then-U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, demanded Bashir’s arrest and prosecution: “The people of Sudan have suffered too much for too long, and an end to their anguish will not come easily. Those who committed atrocities in Sudan, including genocide, should be brought to justice.” No official U.S. statement on Uhuru’s ICC prosecution was issued.
The U.S. maintains excellent relations with Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea who has been in power since 1979 because of that country’s oil reserves; but all of the oil revenues are looted by Obiang and his cronies. In 2011, the U.S. brought legal action in federal court against Obiang’s son to seize corruptly obtained assets including a $40 million estate in Malibu, California overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a luxury plane and a dozen super-sports cars worth millions of dollars. The U.S. has not touched any of the other African Ali Babas and their forty dozen thieving cronies who have stolen billions and stashed their cash in U.S. and other banks.
Despite lofty rhetoric in support of the advancement of democracy and protection of human rights in Africa, the United States continues to subsidize and coddle African dictatorships that are as bad as or even worse than Bashir’s. The U.S. currently provides substantial economic aid, loans, technical and security assistance to the repressive regimes in Ethiopia, Congo (DRC), Uganda, Rwanda and elsewhere. None of these countries holds free elections, allow the operation of an independent press or free expression or abide by the rule of law. All of them are corrupt to the core, keep thousands of political prisoners, use torture and ruthlessly persecute their opposition. Yet they are deemed U.S. “partners”.
“Principled disengagement” as a way of reinventing an American human rights policy?
If the Obama Administration indeed has a global or African human rights policy, it must be a well-kept secret. In March 2013, Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor said American human rights policy is based on “principled engagement”: “We are going to go to the United Nations and join the Human Rights Council and we’re going to be part of it even though we recognize it doesn’t work… We’re going to engage with governments that are allies but we are also going to engage with governments with tough relationships and human rights are going to be part of those discussions.” Second, the U.S. will follow “a single standard for human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it applies to all including ourselves…” Third, consistent with President “Obama’s personality”, the Administration believes “change occurs from within and so a lot of the emphasis… [will be] on how we can help local actors, change agents, civil society, labor activists, religious leaders trying to change their societies from within and amplify their own voices and give them the support they need…”
On August 14, according to Egyptian government sources, 525 protesters, mostly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were killed and 3,717 injured at the hands of Egyptian military and security forces. It was an unspeakably horrifying massacre of protesters exercising their right to peaceful expression of grievances.
On August 15, President Obama criticized the heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful protesters with the usual platitudes. “The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians.” His message to the Egyptian people was somewhat disconcerting in light of the massacre. “America cannot determine the future of Egypt. We do not take sides with any particular party or political figure. I know it’s tempting inside Egypt to blame the United States.”