West News Wire: The red-carpet treatment given to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by President Biden is yet another blow to American human rights policy. The Middle East is also affected by this deliberate ignorance to India’s terrible human rights record.
Indeed, defenders of human rights have long criticised the American government for its politicised and selective application of human rights laws and policies in order to achieve one specific objective: to continue to be the only “Great Power” in the Middle East and North Africa.
There are five main objectives of U.S. hegemony in the region: the first is to maintain control over the supply and price of oil on the global market; the second is to maintain more than 50 military bases in the Middle East; the third is to keep the Middle East as the largest consumer of U.S. military hardware, accounting for 49% of all U.S. arms exports; the fourth is to provide unwavering support for the State of Israel as the purported U.S. outpost in the Middle East.
The conflicts between lofty language and backing for countries that violate human rights are more understandable when we look at our government’s response (or lack thereof) to such transgressions within the Great Power paradigm. Condemnations of stated adversaries’ human rights records contrast sharply with our complicity in comparable behaviour by allies.
Since 2013, Egypt has jailed tens of thousands of political prisoners for crimes including “insulting the president” and “spreading false news” following trials devoid of any semblance of due process. Mass executions have been carried out in Saudi Arabia for political offences such “disturbing the social fabric and national cohesion” and “participating in and inciting sit-ins and protests,” as well as for the literal butchering of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Those who advocate for a democratic parliament or who are just suspected of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood are found guilty in mass trials in the United Arab Emirates.
Human rights activists have described Israel’s establishment of an intricate apartheid system as one that sustains “massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfers, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians.”
Each of these partners has a history of brutally abusing political detainees, refusing them vital medical care, or placing them in solitary confinement for an extended period of time. However, our government still engages in trade, sells military hardware, and hosts foreign leaders at the White House. Additionally, when our allies refuse to cooperate, American politicians momentarily acknowledge the value of human rights by issuing muted condemnations and stopping a small portion of their overseas aid.
However, the United States assumes the role of an international champion of human rights when it comes to Iran and Syria. Iran is officially condemned by the State Department for “brutal acts of violence against peaceful protestors and its ongoing repression of the Iranian people.” Congress passes resolutions “Condemning the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses against the brave women and men of Iran peacefully demonstrating in more than 133 cities.” Although the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) criticises “Iran’s pursuit of death sentences on religiously-grounded charges against protesters asserting their freedom of religion or belief,” notwithstanding that the United States government issued a Muslim ban with the blessing of our Supreme Court. The U.S. government sanctions the Syrian government for actions that are glossed over when our allies are the perpetrators.
But why is USCIRF silent when a US police officer fatally shot a pregnant black woman last week after she refused to get out of her car? An Ohio police agency revealed body camera footage showing an officer fatally shooting a woman in a grocery store parking lot. The situation with the Iranian woman is unfortunate, but similar incidents occur frequently in the United States.
The importance of human rights in U.S. foreign policy is undermined by these glaring contradictions, which reduce them to political platitudes rather than a universal set of standards to which all nations including the United States must adhere.
While human rights law establishes the minimal standard of dignity that all people deserve regardless of the circumstances of their birth their country, neighbourhood, parents, race, or religion it treats human rights as a barrier to American interests in the region. Failure to hold all countries responsible for violations of human rights sends a loud and obvious message to autocrats: The law doesn’t matter.
If the two decades of the U.S.-led global war on terror have taught us anything, it is that when national security is used as an excuse to disregard the rule of law, our own country is less safe and we are less free. We gave our government more power to surveil, investigate, and prosecute people based on their Muslim identity and disagreement with our country’s foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Israel because we fell for the same fearmongering used by autocrats to justify human rights violations.
The U.S. government tortured Muslims and Arabs in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and on CIA black sites, confirming that human rights are merely a geopolitical tool that Western states use against their political foes, not applied consistently as a matter of universal norms. Indeed, the Global War on Terror was a boon for autocrats across the globe who need only label political prisoners as terrorists to legitimize the murder, torture, mass expulsion or indefinite detention of individuals they deem a threat to their political power.
More violence results when wealthy and powerful people may abuse citizens without consequence. Nonstate actors retaliate in kind against oppressive governments that dehumanise their subjects. As a result, the region is replete with war and instability that cannot be limited to just one nation or area.
While the increased demand for military hardware may benefit the U.S. defence industry, the conflicts also provide fertile ground for international terrorist organisations to target the country because it supports countries that routinely violate human rights and deny their citizens fundamental political freedoms, either with our approval or our complicity.
That our taxes go to support regimes that violate human rights should prompt us to act. For it is civilians all over the world including us that are the biggest losers when our shared humanity is subsumed by an outdated Great Power paradigm.