Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Policy’

One journalist who did NOT get the Women of Courage Award (but almost)

March 12, 2019

First lady Melania Trump honors the International Women of Courage awardees during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington on March 29, 2017. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

A few days ago I referred to the International Women of Courage Awards [see; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/11/international-women-of-courage-awards-2019-given-out-at-the-us-state-department/]. One name you will NOT see listed there is that of Jessikka Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist.   explain why in Foreign Policy of 7 March 2019.

Jessikka Aro was to receive a “Women of Courage” prize. Then officials read her Twitter feed.

“It created a shitstorm of getting her unceremoniously kicked off the list,” said one U.S. diplomatic source familiar with the internal deliberations. “I think it was absolutely the wrong decision on so many levels,” the source said. The decision “had nothing to do with her work.”

The State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.” “We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said.

Aro received a formal invitation to the award ceremony not from the embassy but from the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol on Feb. 12.

There is no indication that the decision to revoke the award came from the secretary of state or the White House. Officials who spoke to FP have suggested the decision came from lower-level State Department officials wary of the optics of Pompeo granting an award to an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. The department spokesperson did not respond to questions on who made the decision or why.

To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president. ….In the minds of some diplomats, this has created an atmosphere where lower-level officials self-censor dealings with critics of the administration abroad, even without senior officials weighing in.

Aro said the decision to cancel her award and corresponding trip to the United States caught her completely by surprise. “[When] I was informed about the withdrawal out of the blue, I felt appalled and shocked,” Aro told FP. …

U.S. Cancels Journalist’s Award Over Her Criticism of Trump

The U.N. Hates Hate Speech More Than It Loves Free Speech

March 4, 2019

In a blog post in Foreign Policy of 28 February J (Executive director of Justitia, a Copenhagen based think tank) tackles the thorny issue of hate speech versus freedom of speech: “The U.N. Hates Hate Speech More Than It Loves Free Speech – The U.N. Secretary General is going soft on one of the most fundamental human rights“. It is an excellent read! Read the rest of this entry »

Are Human Rights Defenders making a comeback? Kenneth Roth thinks so!

January 19, 2019

Kenneth Roth – the executive director of Human Rights Watch – published on 17 January 2019 a long post in Foreign Policy which summarizes his introduction to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2018. [for last year’s report, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/19/human-rights-watch-and-kenneth-roth-take-a-stand-against-trumps-dictator-friendly-policies/]. “With larger powers in retreat”, he says, “small countries and civil society groups have stepped up—and they have won some significant victories”. Here some large extracts:

A participant holds a banner with photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in front of the presidential palace during a demonstration on Dec. 21, 2018.

Read the rest of this entry »

Morocco’s crackdown doesn’t silence human rights defenders

January 17, 2019

On 16 January 2019  (a freelance reporter based in Morocco, who worked as a correspondent at the French media site Mediapart and has written for Orient XXI, Rue89, Al-Monitor, and the Christian Science Monitor) published a long and substantive post in Foreign Policy:Morocco’s Crackdown Won’t Silence Dissent” She states that across the country, protesters are increasingly willing to criticize the government and the monarchy—even in the face of repression.

A Moroccan draped in the Berber, or Amazigh, flag shouts slogans while marching during a protest against the jailing of Al-Hirak or "Popular Movement" activists in the capital Rabat on July 15, 2018.

When she joined the National Union of Moroccan Students in 1978, Khadija Ryadi knew she’d face hardship. “At that time,” she recalled, “we were constantly followed by the police.” today life may be even harder. “Now not only are we followed but we are also listened to and photographed, and everywhere. The repression has remained, but the instruments have changed. I never feel at ease.

Recently, Ryadi, who was the president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (also known by its French acronym, AMDH) from 2007 to 2013 and won a United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 2013, has raised eyebrows. In interviews with the author, she denounced “a return to the Years of Lead”—a reference to the decades of harsh oppression in the 1960s to 1990s under Morocco’s King Hassan II. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/05/winners-of-2013-united-nations-human-rights-prizes-announced-today/]

Today’s repression may be much less brutal, but just denouncing the recent crackdown could land critics in jail. Indeed, in recent months, human rights defenders have pointed to a major rise in harassment, arrests, and police violence against activists.

One of them, Abdellah Lefnatsa, said that “achievements such as freedom of expression [and] the right to protest” have started to be rolled back. Over the last two years, over a thousand people have been jailed on politically related charges, according to Youssef Raissouni, an executive director at AMDH.  ……

Another Hirak activist, Mortada Iamrachen, was arrested in November 2017 and later sentenced to five years in prison after making two posts on Facebook…..

Over the summer, meanwhile, Nasser Zefzafi and three other Hirak protest leaders were sentenced to 20 years in prison for “undermining state security.” Protesters staged rallies in Casablanca and Rabat last July to condemn the harsh sentences handed down to them and 49 other Hirak activists and citizen journalists. Now housed in the Oukacha prison in Casablanca, the activists have initiated several hunger strikes to denounce their sentencing and the conditions of their detention. Zefzafi was held more than a year in solitary confinement after his arrest, in violation of U.N. standards, according to Human Rights Watch. [see alsohttps://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/30/nominees-for-the-2018-sakharov-prize-announced-by-european-parliament/]

An appeal trial for 42 of the detained—11 have been pardoned by King Mohammed VI since the verdict last June—started in Casablanca on Nov. 14, 2018, but human rights defenders aren’t optimistic. 

….Particularly worrying for the government is the spread of social movements from the big cities to smaller towns, where locals are tired of poor living conditions.

After two miners died on the job in December 2017, residents of Jerada took to the streets to demand an economic alternative to mining coal in unsafe clandestine shafts, which is one of the few options for work there.Now more than 70 people there have been held awaiting trial since March, according to AMDH and the Unified Socialist Party activist Jawad Tlemsani. Among them, 40 have been recently sentenced to up to five years in prison. For now, such incidents are isolated, but they could portend a nationwide protest movement in the near future.

And that may be why the government’s crackdown on recent protests has been harsher in many ways than its reaction to the Arab Spring, even though the activists’ demands are less extreme. The Hirak protesters have not demanded the resignation of the government but rather more spending ….

The government responded by putting back on track an ambitious development plan that it had launched two years before but had then faced significant delays. This is part of a pattern of giving activists some of what they want before cracking down again. Beyond the rise in prosecutions, AMDH and other organizations like it have recently had trouble obtaining funding and official authorizations from local authorities. This year, out of 100 AMDH bureaus, 54 have failed to get their registration documents, which means they cannot legally work. AMDH activists haven’t had to grapple with problems like this since the 1980s, the activist Lefnatsa said, when the organization was banned and its offices closed.

As repression takes root, a culture of protest is slowly emerging throughout the country. And unlike during the Years of Lead, activists and ordinary citizens are prepared to publicly criticize the government and, at times, the monarchy.

There’s no way this would have been possible” when he started out, Lefnatsa told me, looking back on his 40 years as an activist. “What people say now on social networks, it would have cost them years of prison.” Indeed, during the Years of Lead, activists were imprisoned for years simply for distributing leaflets. Even if protest remains costly today, something fundamental has changed.

Youngsters who were considered apolitical now speak up against despotism and the unequal distribution of wealth, and ordinary men and women struggle for their social and economic rights in the most remote parts of the country,” Lefnatsa said. “The repression hasn’t succeeded in suppressing the protest movement,” he added. “And that is new.”

Not so diplomatic Diplomat of the Year: Zeid

June 15, 2018

Hussein

Zeid Raad al-Hussein, who serves as the U.N. high commissioner for human rights but is leaving soon [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/bound-to-happen-but-still-high-commissioner-zeid-announces-he-will-not-seek-second-term/] was named “2018 Career Diplomat of the Year

Here is his speech to Foreign Policy on 14 June 2018:

Good evening to you all. I must confess I was astounded as well as delighted to receive an award for diplomacy. Over the past few years, I have been attacked and trolled in various ways, but never have I been described as being diplomatic. Still, diplomacy properly defined is the peaceful arrangement of relations between states. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is based on two core premises. One: every human being has inherent dignity, and all of us have equal and inalienable rights. Recognition of those rights, and I quote the first line of the preamble, is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.

Four years as the U.N. high commissioner for human rights has brought me many luminous encounters with women and men of immense dignity and principle, a number of desperately important life-saving struggles, much shocking and painful information, and some lessons, profound lessons which may take many years to fully assimilate. I hope to share a few of them with you tonight.

But first I want to circle back, as I have constantly done and found myself doing throughout my mandate, to the Universal Declaration and to the context in which it was drafted.

Forgive me, but I am a historian by training. This is truly where the story begins. It was at time of slaughter and terrible suffering, with broken economies and nations emerging from the ashes of two world wars, an immense genocide, atomic destruction, and the Great Depression. Finding solutions that could ensure global and national peace was a matter of the starkest kind of survival; committing to the U.N. charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was desperately important. They were not philosophical goals. This was life and death.

There will be, to use the refrain, no peace without justice. There will be no durable development without the promotion of broad social progress and better standards of life for all, and larger freedom. The men and women who survived the two world wars understood this, utterly. It was in their bones.

Leaders of states understood it and knew they must draft and hold to international laws which would ensure collective action within and peaceful relationships within and between states.

Treaty after treaty, they built a body of laws and covenants and committed to implementing them. And there was, there is, great cynicism about the global order they constructed, never fully global, never fully orderly.

But although it may have been partial, the progress they ensured was immense. That generation is quickly disappearing and with them the memory of the lessons that were so painfully clear to them.

The world, instead of advancing towards greater freedom, justice, and peace, is going backwards, to a landscape of increasingly strident zero-sum nationalism, where the jealously guarded short-term interests of individual leaders supplant and destroy efforts to find common solutions.

Backwards to an era of contempt for the rights of people who have been forced to flee or leave their homes because the threats they face are more dangerous even than the perils of their voyage.

Backwards to a time of proxy wars at the knife edge of sparking regional and global conflicts.

A time when military operations could deliberately target civilians and civilian sites such as hospitals.

A time when chemicals were openly used for military purposes and against innocent families.

Backwards to an era where racists and xenophobes deliberately inflame hatred and discrimination among the public while carefully cloaking themselves in the guise of democracy and the rule of law.

Backwards to an era when women were not permitted to control their own choices and their own bodies.

Backwards to an era where criticism was criminalized and human rights activism brought jail or worse.

This is the way wars are made. With the smarm of belligerence and the smirk of dehumanization. With the incremental erosion of old and seemingly wearisome checks.

The path to violence is made up of the unreckoned consequences of banal, incidental brutality seeping into the political landscape.

It is shaped by leadership that is both thuggish and infantile, petulant, cultivating grievances to reap votes and sowing humiliation, oppression, and hatred, and disregard for the greater common good.

Here is one lesson: Intolerance is an insatiable machine. Its wheels, once they begin to function at a certain amplitude, become uncontrollable. Grinding deeper, more crudely, and more widely.

First, one group of people is singled out for hatred, then more and more, as the machine for exclusion accelerates into crimes, and civil and international warfare, feeding always on its own rage, a growing frenzy of grievance and blaming.

As that tension begins to peak, no obvious mechanism exists that is capable of decompressing and controlling its intensity, because the machine functions on an emotional level that has very little contact with reason.

Release may only come after tremendous violence. This, in the human rights community, is something we have witnessed time and again.

We are at a pivotal moment in history now as contempt for human rights spreads. Xenophobes and racists have emerged from the shadows. Backlash is growing against advances made in women’s rights, Ireland notwithstanding, and many others. The space for civic activism is shrinking. The legitimacy of human rights principles is attacked. And the practice of human rights norms is in retreat.

What we are destroying is quite simply the structures that ensure our safety. The destruction of Syria is a murderous parable written in blood, which brings home yet again the horrific spiraling of incremental human rights violations into absolute destruction. The organized campaigns of violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar, which was Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economy in 2016 yet again reminds us that economic growth will never maintain peace and security in the face of biting discrimination. In 2017, only last year, we once again saw the specter of possible genocide, and once again we did very little to stop it from happening.

In a sentence, what is the one core lesson brought home to me by the extraordinary privilege, crushing mandate as High Commissioner, is that in every circumstance the safety of humanity will only be secured through vision, energy, and generosity of spirit. Through activism, through the struggle of greater freedom, equality, and through justice. I thank you so much for your attention.

2018 Career Diplomat of the Year Zeid Raad al-Hussein: Read the Transcript

2017 (6): predictions on Trump and the UN – prophets or Cassandras?

January 26, 2017

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump

Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Already on 22 November 2016 Colum Lynch posted in “Foreign Policy” an insightful piece entitled: “The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump”.  It records the thinking of senior UN staff and NGO leaders who are going to confront a Donald Trump with a hard-line national security team. They fear that a Trump presidency could spur a global retreat from international human rights principles, marking the dawn of American leadership (see long extracts from the piece below) on green. Now – on 26 January 2017 – Daniel Warner in his weekly blog in the Tribune de Geneve wrote a post entitled: “The U.N., Trump and Cassandra” in which he reports that a bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 3 calling for the total disengagement of the United States from the United Nations. The bill, H.R. 193 – known as American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 – has been referred for deliberations to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill – tried before in 2015 – may not pass, but the writer fears it reflects the tenor of the current Trump administration. See his words below marked in blue.

—-

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, informed his staff in the weeks following the U.S. election that they will have to serve as the front line in an international effort to check any excesses on the human rights front. A chief concern, officials say, is that if the U.N. doesn’t call out its most powerful member for straying from universally accepted human rights norms, the rest of the world will be emboldened to ditch them. “We are going to speak up,” one U.N. official told Foreign Policy. “It’ll be rough, but if [Trump] puts any of those ghastly campaign pledges into action we will condemn.”

…..Still, Trump’s campaign pledged to restore waterboarding, deport millions of undocumented migrants, and ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. …

The U.N.’s approach to human rights is particularly tricky for the incoming U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who headed the U.N. refugee agency for nearly 10 years. Guterres has been an outspoken champion of refugees, pressing European governments, as well as the United States, to resettle far larger numbers of refugees. Two weeks after Trump called for his ban on Muslims last December, Guterres admonished the Security Council, saying, “Those that reject Syrian refugees because they are Muslims are the best allies in the recruitment propaganda of extremist groups.” But Guterres may be constrained as the leader of the United Nations, a job that requires a close relationship with the United States and other big powers. ……

That makes it likely that Zeid will take the lead on human rights. Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, Zeid, a Muslim prince from the Jordanian royal family, has repeatedly excoriated Trump, telling reporters in December that his threat to ban Muslim travel to the United States is “grossly irresponsible.” In September, Zeid included Trump, along with France’s Marine Le Pen and Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, on a list of “populists, demagogues, and political fantasists” who promoted their arguments grounded in “half truths and oversimplification.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]

Some U.N. officials say Zeid’s criticism of the U.N.’s most powerful country could strengthen his hand in disputes with other U.N. members, particularly those from the developing world who have long accused the United Nations of applying greater pressure on small powers for breaching human rights norms, while letting the United States and other big powers off the hook. Other U.N. officials fear that Zeid may be exposing the organization to a battle with the U.N.’s most powerful players that he can’t win. In September, Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin formally protested Zeid’s public denunciations of Trump and other European nationalists. “Prince Zeid is overstepping his limits from time to time, and we’re unhappy about it,” Churkin told The Associated Press.

More recently, Zeid tangled with China over his attendance at a ceremony for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which honored a Uighur economist, Ilham Tohti, who is serving a life sentence on charges of fomenting separatism and violence. A senior Chinese official appealed to Zeid not to attend the event, according to a U.N. official. But Zeid refused, insisting that he had an independent mandate to shed light on human rights violations wherever they occur, including China.

Even before Trump’s election, U.N. officials believed that human rights were under threat from authoritarian governments, including China, Egypt, Russia, and Turkey, which have been engaged in major crackdowns on civil liberties at home. “They are backsliding on human rights, but from a position of weakness,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York City-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. “Both [Vladimir] Putin and Xi Jinping are engaging in the worst crackdowns in their countries in two decades, each driven by the terror as to how their countries will react to a weakening economy; they’re trying to snuff out in advance opposition they anticipate.”

Roth said there is a real danger that Trump and other populist leaders will accelerate the curtailment of human rights. “The entire human rights movement is weary about Trump,” he said. “It’s not clear what his values are. That is why his initial appointees are so important.” Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, fears Trump’s controversial positions, including torture and deportation, would embolden smaller countries. When big powers, particularly the United States, tread on human rights the world tends to follow. If smaller countries, such as Burundi and Kenya, hear Trump threatening to cast out foreign refugees they may choose to act in kind, Christopoulos said. Saudi Arabia threatened this year to cut funding to U.N. relief programs and to lead a walkout by Muslim states from the United Nations if the U.N. didn’t lift its name from a list of countries that killed or maimed children in armed conflict, according to a senior U.N. official. In its defense, Saudi officials noted that the United States had shielded its closest Middle East ally, Israel, from being included on the same list in 2015. It was only fair, therefore, that Riyadh be spared the shame of being included on the list...

Rights advocates say the rising tide of nationalism and populism in Europe and the United States represents a potentially existential threat to the human rights movement, as governments that once championed the cause on the international stage head into retreat. Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, has railed against “left-wing human rights lawyers” who are seeking the prosecution of British soldiers alleged to have committed war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. She has proposed that London withdraw from key provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights that potentially expose British troops to prosecution. A generation of European nationalist leaders, including Le Pen and Wilders, who had been on the fringe of the European political spectrum, have seen their electoral prospects grow in the face of spreading anti-immigrant sentiment. That has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel as one of the “only outspoken leaders on human rights,” Roth said. In her first statement following Trump’s election, Merkel said she would work closely with Trump, but only on the basis of “democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law, and the dignity of men regardless of origin, skin color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.”

———-

Daniel Warner further wrote: Fervent supporter of H.R. 193 and prominent Republican Rand Paul (Rep-KY) said in 2015: “I dislike paying for something that two-bit Third World countries with no freedom attack us and complain about the United States… There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t like the U.N., and I think I’d be happy to dissolve it,” added the Kentucky senator. Or, as John Bolton, once U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and now being considered for the number two spot in the State Department famously said: “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
This time, following the election of Donald Trump and the U.S. abstention on a Security Council resolution to condemn the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, the bill has a better chance. The mood in Washington of “America First” will try to repeal all multilateral agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as weakening multilateral organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Does the introduction of the bill matter? For International Geneva, it certainly does. While the United States might not withdraw from the U.N., the negative attitude of the current administration towards multilateralism and multilateral organizations will have obvious negative consequences for Geneva, sometimes called “The Rome of Multilateralism.” Even with U.S. participation, the international system will lack United States leadership during the Trump presidency. The visit of the Chinese President to the U.N. Office in Geneva and his speech at Davos were clear signs of shifting multilateral leadership.
I heard a comment from someone within the Washington bureaucracy that gives some hope.  Her feeling was that career civil servants will slow down if not block radical changes in U.S. foreign policy. The slow wheels of government will crush any unilateral attempts by the Trump leadership. The ship of state will carry on with deep divisions between the political appointments and career civil servants. This would be an indirect check on the incoming politicians.
On January 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration, millions marched against the Trump presidency throughout the United States. Millions more marched around the world for women’s dignity and many against Donald Trump as well. Will anyone march to save multilateralism and the U.N?

——

Sources:

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump | Foreign Policy

The U.N., Trump and Cassandra : Le blog de Daniel Warner

see also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/23/2017-4-canadas-year-of-real-human-rights-action/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/24/2017-5-with-trump-us-president-sweden-must-stand-up-for-human-rights/

Training workshop on Protection of HRDs by Foreign Governments

January 24, 2017

Chris Collier, a well-known human rights consultant based in the  Netherlands (www.chriscollier.nl), will be conducting a one-day, participatory training workshop for human rights defenders and staff of human rights organizations on foreign government protection of HRDs. The course will take place on 27 March 2017 in Brussels.  Participants will gain knowledge of policies and practices of foreign governments in HRD protection, will develop advocacy skills to make full use of these possibilities, and make plans to get foreign governments to take action on specific issues or cases.  The workshop will cover the EU and EU member states as well as other countries with guidelines on HRD protection (Switzerland, Norway and Canada).  The language of the workshop will be English.  The number of participants will be limited to a maximum of 15.  The workshop fee is €300 and participants are asked to arrange their own visa, travel and accommodation.  (An invitation letter to the training can, of course, be provided.)

Please contact Chris Collier if you would you be interested in participating in this training workshop,  tel. +31-(0)6-34936026 mail@chriscollier.nl

 

 

Why ‘lecturing’ China on human rights should be continued

March 30, 2016

German President Joachim Gauck (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping are shown during the former's recent visit to Chna. Photo: Reuters

German President Joachim Gauck (left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping are shown during the former’s recent visit to China. Photo: Reuters

Stephen Vines published a piece in EJ Insight on 29 March 2016 under the title “Why China acquiesced to German leader’s human rights lecture”. I think it is an excellent read that makes the case for continued ‘human rights interference” in China and not just there. I save you the trouble of finding it by copying it below:

Read the rest of this entry »

China’s New Age of Fear? China File in Foreign Policy

February 19, 2016

In Foreign Policy’s China File of 18 February 2016 there are 3 contributions worth reading about whether the increased repression under Xi Jinping (disappearances, detention of human rights lawyers, televised confessions, and stepped-up surveillance) is the ‘new normal’?

ChinaFile-logo-89h

Source: China’s New Age of Fear | Foreign Policy

Czechs set example: an activist human rights foreign policy

January 23, 2015

Vaclav Havel. Picture: EPA

Vaclav Havel. Picture: EPA
In an opinion piece in BDLive of 22 January 2015, John Stremlau, discusses the outcome of an International Conference “Foreign Policy on Human Rights for the 21st Century” held in Prague, Czech Republic, and draws lessons for other countries , especially South Africa. Although the article implicitly overstates the human rights credentials of the BRICS nations, it makes interesting weekend reading:

“SOUTH Africans are not the only ones debating the role of human rights in foreign policy. Twenty-five years after Czechs achieved their peaceful democratic revolution, they too are debating whether their foreign policy is contrary to the ideals of Vaclav Havel and the others who risked their lives to secure freedom at home and influence abroad as a human rights leader.

To air these issues, the Czech foreign ministry recently convened an international conference, titled Foreign Policy on Human Rights for the 21st Century. Several hundred Czechs attended and there was extensive national media coverage. Eighteen foreign human rights activists and practitioners were invited as panellists, from the US, European Union, Africa, Latin America and Asia.

In his opening address, the foreign minister suggested there could be alternative and attractive ways to frame Czechs’ post-Havel human rights foreign policy — one, he said, that would be less identified with US selective use of force to secure human rights. As an alternative, he suggested closer alignment with Brics nations, which he suggested were wisely emphasising social and economic over political and civil rights.

Overall, the proceedings revealed no disagreement over the enduring universality of basic human rights, with political and civil rights as necessary preconditions for realising all other rights and frequent references to the importance of the Czech example as an inspiration to others and the basis for its international influence and leadership.

Surprisingly little was said about the advantages or dangers for human rights of Chinese autocratic capitalism. The sharpest criticisms were of the threats to Czech national security from Russia, including abetting of human rights abuses in nearby former Soviet republics.

The controversial role of human rights in US foreign policy, however, got the most attention.

Several speakers complained about US “double standards” in human rights interventions; an over-reliance on military means; the disregard for human rights in the use of torture, drones, and detention without trial in combating terrorism; and a culture of impunity that allows even those found guilty to avoid punishment.

On this, too, Czech and South African foreign policies converge.

South African participants would have likely found the final panel most relevant, especially the views of former struggle veterans, who showed dismay over the present government’s less assertive defence of human rights defenders, in China and elsewhere.

SA does not, of course, face a security threat comparable to the one the Czechs face from Russia, but the panellists still hold that a more activist human rights foreign policy is a better political defence than accommodation.

With the US absorbed with overcoming the consequences of its past misadventures in Iraq and the Middle East, the Czechs seek partners beyond Western Europe.

The Czech foreign ministry may have envisioned a different outcome, but most Czech speakers appear to be seeking, above all, compatible and reliable democratic partners, whose human rights foreign policies are more in line with those of the human rights heroes who once risked their lives to transform the then Czechoslovakia. Such partnerships would be valuable in shoring up national commitments to human rights in domestic and foreign policy. But it was argued that government policies in support of human rights lacked sufficient coherence at home and abroad.

SA and the Czech Republic may have different national interests but they do share vital values and are facing challenges in adapting them to conditions at home and abroad.

Perhaps the Department of International Relations and Co-operation should consult the Czech foreign ministry about convening in Pretoria a 2015 sequel to the international conference just held in Prague, and with a similar agenda, although instead of focusing on a dialogue between Europe and the US, SA might include a topic on the Brics in human rights dialogue.

The Czechs set a good example by adopting a broad agenda and inviting a diverse array of opinions, and allowing a free-wheeling debate, attributes South Africans appreciate and which might advance a debate here of the importance of foreign policy on human rights.”

John Stremlau is visiting professor in the Department of International Relations at Wits University.

Czechs set example for SA on human rights | Opinion & Analysis | BDlive.