Posts Tagged ‘international diplomacy’

Kenneth Roth speaks plainly on international human rights: China a violator and US “unprincipled”

September 29, 2020

In Newsweek of 21 September 2020 did an interview with Kenneth Roth who has spent 27 years as the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in which he warns that China poses a threat to the global human rights system, that U.S. is no longer to be relied on as a supporter of human rights and how this has left a void, emboldening autocrats who have used the pandemic to undermine democratic societies.

China and the threat it poses to human rights both at home and around the world is a huge issue,” he says, identifying the current period as the darkest in China’s history when it comes to human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. More than a million Uighur Muslims have been put in internment camps in the country’s Xinjiang province, According to the United Nations (U.N.). China says the camps serve as “re-education” centers designed to combat extremism, but those who have managed to escape share stories of forced labor, torture, medical experiments and rape. Roth says: “The Uighurs are the most severe example of worsening repression under Xi Jinping (China’s prime minister). It’s quite clear that this is the darkest moment in China in human rights terms since the massacre of Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989, the Uyghurs have been the most grievous sufferers of that where a million or more have been detained essentially to force them to abandon Islam and their culture.” The worsening repression doesn’t just extend to minorities, it’s something Roth says we can see also occurring in Hong Kong and Tibet as well as against China’s own population more widely.

There is no independent civil society,” he says. “There is no independent media, human rights defenders are routinely imprisoned. There is a complete lockdown on any organized public dissent and that is just across the board, not just minority population areas. China’s also building this so-called social credit system which is designed to condition access to various governmental benefits on one’s social reliability. So it’s using high-tech tools to control the population.“…

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On the human rights challenges facing Europe, Roth expresses particular concern about the situation in Belarus, where the man dubbed “Europe’s last dictator“, Alexander Lukashenko, is facing widespread protests over a disputed election. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, with the government frequently accused of repressing the opposition….

Kenneth Roth
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch

He also thinks India‘s Prime Minister Modi has got away with what he calls his systematic discrimination against the country’s 172 million Muslims because of the West’s desire to tap into Indian markets and use it as a counterweight against China, which Newsweek will be reporting on in the coming days.

Roth is highly critical of the Trump administration, accusing the president’s foreign policy of being driven by the guiding principle of “self-glorification” and only speaking out in defense of human rights when the offending country is a perceived adversary.

Trump is utterly uninterested in calling out any human rights violation by anybody other than a handful of perceived adversaries, China, Venezuela, Iran, Nicaragua and Cuba and that’s about it, which is a completely unprincipled approach to human rights which does not attract any adherence and greatly weakens the force of US intervention,” he says. “Human Rights Watch has been living with Trump for four years now and we have already stopped relying on the U.S. as anything like a principled supporter of human rights.”

With the U.S. increasingly withdrawing from the world stage and with the European Union not really filling the void, as he says, is there a new approach to the defense of human rights emerging?

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/19/are-human-rights-defenders-making-a-comeback-kenneth-roth-thinks-so/

https://www.newsweek.com/human-rights-china-u-s-foreign-policy-trump-democracy-europe-human-rights-watch-1533239

Saudi Arabia for first time openly criticized in UN Human Rights Council

March 8, 2019

Whether by intent or by coincidence, the very critical statement of the UN Human Rights Council on Saudi Arabia came on International Women’s Day 2019. There was considerable media attention. Interesting to note is the difference in emphasis between the NYT and the Washington Post:

By Nick Cumming-Bruce wrote for the NYT on 7 March 2019:

“Dozens of Western countries rebuked Saudi Arabia for its aggressive crackdown on free expression in a landmark initiative on Thursday in the United Nations’ top human rights body. It was the first time states had ever confronted the kingdom over its human rights record in the United Nations Human Rights Council, where Saudi Arabia is one of 47 members. The rebuke came in a statement signed by 36 nations — including every member of the European Union — that condemned Saudi Arabia’s “continuing arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders” and its use of counterterrorism laws to silence peaceful dissent. The statement pointed in particular to the treatment of Saudi women who have challenged the kingdom’s strict rules. The nations also called on Saudi Arabia to cooperate fully with investigations into the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The statement specifically named 10 people, all arrested last year in a crackdown that started shortly before Saudi Arabia introduced reforms allowing women to drive: Loujain Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan, Aziza Al-Yousef, Nassima Al-Sadah, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi and Shadan al-Anezi. The statement drew applause from human rights groups, which said it broke Saudi Arabia’s apparent impunity from condemnation in the council.

“It sends a strong signal that Saudi Arabia is not untouchable, and that council members should be held to a higher level of scrutiny,” said Salma El Hosseiny, an advocate for the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights.

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Ishaan Tharoor wrote for the Washington Post of 8 March 2019 :”The West’s rebuke of Saudi Arabia won’t change its course”


(Anjum Naveed/AP)

The rhetorical attacks keep coming at Saudi Arabia from the West. On Thursday, the European Union signed on to a rare rebuke of the kingdom. …The statement was the first collective reprimand of Riyadh issued at the council since it was founded in 2006…Both the Trump administration and Saudi officials have sought to shield Mohammed from scrutiny, but that hasn’t dimmed the outrage of a host of Western governments and lawmakers. In Washington, Congress is still battling the White House over the latter’s flouting of a legal requirement to report to the Senate on the crown prince’s role in Khashoggi’s death. Though U.S. politicians remain bitterly divided on most issues, they have found an unusual consensus in their antipathy toward Riyadh……..

But the Saudis’ response has so far been categorical and unrepentant. “Interference in domestic affairs under the guise of defending human rights is in fact an attack on our sovereignty,” said Abdul Aziz Alwasil, the kingdom’s permanent representative in Geneva, in reaction to the European Union’s statement. Similar bullish statements came from the Saudi Foreign Ministry this year as members of Congress weighed the passage of a punitive bill.

That Riyadh has endured only the slightest course corrections amid months of controversy speaks, firstly, to the durability of the monarchy’s economic ties with a host of major powers. International political and business elites have shown themselves all too willing to overlook a regime’s record when it suits their interests. But it also speaks to the fact that despite their concerns over Khashoggi’s death, insiders in Washington cheer the Saudi push toward a more “normal” and secular modernity encouraged by Mohammed’s ambitious economic and social reform agenda. Movie theaters have sprung up, and women can now learn to drive — no matter that key female activists who clamored for these rights are still in prison.

Mohammed has championed these reforms by inculcating a new spirit of nationalism. “Saudi Arabia’s undergoing an aggressive nationalist rebranding, downplaying an austere religious doctrine associated abroad with terrorism, and promoting veneration of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he pursues an economic overhaul,” noted Bloomberg News this week, exploring the extent to which overt nationalism is supplanting the kingdom’s traditional religious orthodoxy. “Amid efforts to maintain domestic support while redesigning the contract between state and citizen, traitors, not infidels, are the enemy.”

The lecturing from Western capitals, too, plays into this dynamic, deepening national feeling among many patriotic Saudis who have rallied around their prince in the face of “unbalanced” criticism from abroad, said Ali Shihabi, founder of the Arabia Foundation, a Washington think tank with close ties to Riyadh. He added that “inspiring nationalism is an objective” of Mohammed’s reform agenda.

Critics of the crown prince view him as a fundamentally destabilizing leader. Other experts argue that he’s here to stay. “It’s impossible to not see how much the country has changed” under Mohammed’s watch, said former U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross at a panel hosted by the Arabia Foundation last week, saying that though the crown prince may be “reckless,” the United States has much to gain from a “successful transformation” from Wahhabism to nationalism in Saudi Arabia.

—–See also this video clip by OMCT:

https://twitter.com/i/status/1103696655906492417

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/07/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-human-rights-abuses.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2019/03/08/wests-rebuke-saudi-arabia-wont-change-its-course/?utm_term=.5e411da39e34

Change of High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN: optimism warranted

August 22, 2018

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, following approval by the General Assembly, has appointed Michelle Bachelet of Chile the next United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  [Ms. Bachelet ended her second four-year term as President of Chile in March 2018, having already held the position between 2006 and 2010.  The first woman elected to Chile’s highest office, after her first term, she joined the United Nations as the first Executive Director of the newly established United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women). A long-time human rights champion and ground-breaking leader, Ms. Bachelet is a paediatrician who began her Government career as an adviser in the Ministry of Health, rising quickly to become the first woman to lead Chile’s Health Ministry in 2000 and its Defence Ministry in 2002. Ms. Bachelet became involved in Chilean human rights activism in the early 1970s.  She and her parents were political prisoners, and her father, a general in the air force, died in prison.  After their release, Ms. Bachelet and her mother spent several years in exile.  She returned to Chile in 1979.] Her human rights background as well as her political cloud and experience give reason to hope that the Office of the High Commissioner will continue to be at the forefront in spite of the countervailing currents at the moment.  

 

 

 

 

 

Recognition of the fearless outgoing High Commissioner has continued to pour in:

The 2018 Human Rights Tulip has been awarded to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Dutch Foreign minister Stef Blok will present him with the prize on 3 September in The Hague. For more information on the Human Rights Tulip see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/tulip-award. ‘The Netherlands greatly values the way in which he has fulfilled his mandate as High Commissioner,’ Mr Blok said. ‘He addressed human rights violations wherever they occurred. This critical and independent attitude is what is needed in a world where human rights are in jeopardy in many places.

On Monday 20 August the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a wide-ranging interview days before his four-year term ends that U.S. President Donald Trump bears “a heavy responsibility” for how the media is portrayed and that his remarks could have a knock-on effect that could hurt journalists in other countries.” [U.S. newspapers across the country ran editorials last Thursday defending freedom of the press in response to President Donald Trump calling some media organizations enemies of the American people.] “The President should be aware that a heavy responsibility lies on his shoulders when it comes to the way in which the media is being portrayed,” Zeid said.

In his last major interview with UN News on 15 August, the UN human rights chief says that the “real pressure on this job comes from the victims and those who suffer and expect a great deal from us.” “Governments are more than capable of defending themselves. It’s not my job to defend them. I have to defend civil society, vulnerable groups, the marginalized, the oppressed. Those are the people that we, in our office, need to represent,” he adds, noting that “oppression is making a comeback”.

When asked about whether his view of the UN and what it can achieve has diminished during his time spent speaking out loudly in defence of the abused and defenceless over the past four years, he says: “It’s very difficult to tolerate abuse of the UN when I keep thinking of the heroic things that people do in the field, whether the humanitarian actors or humanitarian personnel, my human rights people, the people who are monitoring or observing. And I take my hat off to them. I mean, they are the UN that I will cherish and remember.”

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https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2018-08-20/trump-has-responsibility-towards-media-un-rights-boss-says

https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/08/1017052

https://www.government.nl/latest/news/2018/08/14/high-commissioner-for-human-rights-zeid-raad-al-hussein-to-receive-2018-human-rights-tulip

https://www.un.org/press/en/2018/sga1824.doc.htm