Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Human Rights '04

Amnesty International just published its 2005 Report, revisiting the state of human rights across the world during 2004. In it, Amnesty accused the US of many prisoner abuses and wartime criminal activity that not surprisingly, Bush and company denied as "ridiculous and unsupported by the facts." (BBC) But to only address that part of the report is to deny its real message: we as citizens of the world still don't care, nor wish to understand our common humanity. Tragically, the good will of anti-terrorism and Asian Tsunami relief have faded back into the grinding wheels of corporation versus nation struggle.

In the report's introduction, Amnesty clearly emphasizes the dual nature of global concern:
However, the reaction to the tsunami of the international community, including the response of ordinary people, was painfully at odds with the failure to deal effectively with other global crises which throughout 2004 left comparable numbers of victims in their wake. Economic interests, political hypocrisy and socially orchestrated discrimination continued to fan the flames of conflict around the world. The so-called "war on terror"” appeared more effective in eroding the international framework of human rights principles than in countering the threat of international terrorism”. The security of women facing gender-based violence in the home, in the community or in situations of conflict barely received attention. The economic, social and cultural rights of marginalized communities continued to be largely ignored.
Of course, Amnesty detailed the horrors in Darfur and the continued violence in the Sudan. Other examples included the Iraqi war, the sixth year of the Chechnyan war, the deteriorating situation in Haiti (despite attempts with UN/US intervention), the increased violence along the West Bank/Gaza Strip perpetuated by both Israeli forces and Palestinian extremists, and the civil war in the Ivory Coast. All in all, it is truly a deplorable record for civilized countries who claim their intervention seeks to eliminate or mitigate these tragedies.

Gravestones for Fallujah victims

Two major factors stand out in all of these conflicts. Namely, the proliferation of arms and external economic interests. What might surprise some is the role of corporate interests which supersede national ones:
The role of external players in prolonging conflict can be seen starkly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where more than three million civilians have been killed or have died from hunger and disease since August 1998. This conflict has been characterized by illegal killings, torture and rape by forces on all sides, and by the intervention of other states and international corporations in pursuit of their own interests, regardless of the human costs. Many countries have continued to supply arms to the DRC, often arranged and delivered by international arms brokering networks using circuitous routes to breach the UN arms embargo on the DRC.

In 2004, almost all of eastern DRC, where numerous armed groups are fighting for control of the land and its resources, remained under the de facto control of different armed groups or militia. Unlawful killings and torture persisted. Men, women and children were attacked with machetes, homemade weapons and small arms. Sexual violence was used as a weapon of war. There was extensive looting and destruction of homes, fields, schools, medical and nutritional centres, and religious institutions. All armed forces used children as soldiers.
After addressing the deplorable state of US detainees in both Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, the report emphasized violations in Iraq as part of its occupation:
Throughout 2004, violence was endemic in Iraq, whether in the form of unlawful killings, torture and other violations by US-led Coalition troops and Iraqi security forces, or attacks against civilians and others by armed groups. Delivery of aid and reconstruction assistance was debilitated by the violence. Millions suffered the consequences of destroyed infrastructure, mass unemployment and uncertainty about their future. Dozens of hostages were brutally killed, some beheaded on film that subsequently received worldwide media attention. Criminal gangs kidnapped scores of Iraqis, especially children, for ransom. And there was little or no progress in bringing to justice those responsible for past and present human rights abuses.

Meanwhile, the main human rights body of the UN ignored the crisis in Iraq. In April, the UN Commission on Human Rights decided to discontinue its review of the situation in Iraq at a time when monitoring, assistance and cooperation were of crucial importance to a successful transition from a brutal dictatorship to a government respectful of human rights. By doing so, the Commission showed yet again it had no stomach for confronting grave abuses of human rights in the face of intransigent governments.
Economic and social insecurity are obviously the root cause of these catastrophes, but with the growing power of multinational conglomerates on the world stage, what power can one person possibly wield? Even large national interests are becoming increasingly the consensus of corporate desires. Large militaries in the name of anti-terrorism torture and kill those who stand in the way of cheaper resources. There is no chain large enough or person important enough to block the bulldozers of unmitigated capitalistic greed.

In a phrase, it is "political consumerism". We as consumers feed the machine. Stop feeding it. The first step is in educating yourself about what you buy. No longer can blind capitalism perpetuate the violence. No longer can greed alone justify our need to buy. Based upon what you consume and don't, you become either another cog in the corporate apparatus or the wrench that strips its wheels.

Not sure where to start? Stop shopping at Wal-Mart first. Then, start buying blue. When it comes to coffee and chocolate, make sure it is fair-traded.

Remember, you are the consumer and you vote with your money. Make your vote count!


At 10:22 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a former chapter president of Amnesty International, I have to strongly disagree with your assumption that consumerism and capitalism is the "fuel" for global tragedy. It isn't as simple as "breaking the sweatshop's bank." Do that and you break the worker's albeit meager opportunity for income.

It would be great if individuals in free nations had the power to break the bonds of oppression simply by writing letters or purchasing the "correct" products (or, in the case of my brother, opting out of the "consumer culture" altogether.)

But the fact of it is that, while individual behavior may or may not have a marginal (at best) effect on poverty, insecurity, and oppression, the ultimate solution for these catastrophic problems are capital, security and liberty.

We all must join together in our efforts to ensure that more capital, more security and more liberty is "pumped into" nations writhing under the sweltering heat of oppression. The Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon all provide imperfect models for how that might be accomplished.

Human Rights, as declared and defined by the UN, are simply not secure within nations that haven't democracy and the rule of law. We must extend democracy to them if these people are ever to be truly free.

Otherwise, every sit-in becomes Tianamen Square. Every letter becomes trash in a despots wastebin. Every product conscientiously not purchased becomes a morsel stolen from the mouth of a child. With liberty, security, and capital...the sit-in becomes a voice, the letter becomes a lever, the products may be purchased freely, because the market allows workers to choose their labor.

Thank you for reporting on this. We must constantly work to do everything we can for those who would otherwise be forgotten.


At 11:56 AM GMT-5, Blogger the prisoner said...

Thank you for your impassioned response. I hope you will take the time to read my previous blog entries on these kinds of topics.

You provide the other important side to activism, but as you noted with political consumerism, democracy alone is not enough. The dangerous nature of the globalization is the anonymity of corporations and what they can do without the public's apathetic approval.

Is it really any surprise that many human rights violations coincide often in conjunction with natural resource needs?

Your comment is important and maybe I used this report as an opportunity to emphasize political consumerism and I am glad your comment rounds this out.

I hope we both can agree that unilateral action is not the answer, and as long as corporate interests drive wedges in attempted relief efforts (such as in Darfur), there must be a multifaceted approach to defend human rights worldwide. That involves consumerism (or lack therof) and traditional political activism.


At 4:43 PM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know that unilateralism is even an option these days, though. Everything is so integrated. On the other hand, I think mega-multilateralism simply doesn't work, because no one ends up being truly responsible for the "good" that needs done. See UN peacekeeper abuses and impotence in several areas.

You nailed the issue right on the head when you identify the disputes arising from natural resources. Most countries that "score low" on human rights are ones whose primary source of production is a natural resource (oil, diamonds, coal, ores, agriculture.) In other words, whoever controls the resource controls the country.

We are pouring so much money and aid into Darfur, and it is all being thwarted to a great degree. Without some country or coalition of countries willing to step up and assert security and liberty in the Darfur region, no corporate ethical standards can even be applied, at least not on the ground, not where it matters.

Darfur and other regions and nation-states with rampant abuses are in the "gap." They can't wait for every other nation to come to a consensus to "save" them. The United States, the UK and Australia are able to project rapid security to an area like Darfur, and protect the NGOs on the ground, and, yes, pursuade the economy to diversify (preferably with UN help, but the corruption in that organization is as disgusting as any recipient of international corporate welfare as I have ever seen.)

I'm not saying rebuild the British Empire, I'm saying "rent" British power to bring effective security to bear. Then the markets will open up, liberty has a chance to grow, and I will be able to disregard WalMart without worrying that I may actually be robbing the only meagre wage that makes it to the pockets of near-slave children. I'll know that those kids (well, preferably their intact older family members) have the option of seeking employment at a better place of business.

But it can't just can't...without someone stepping in and forcing out (or firmly persuading) the local warlord/despot out, and implementing people-centered change. I hate this fact, but these nasties have been dug in for decades, and modern nations like France and Russia and the U.S. and Britain often helped put them there. Now we need to help yank them out and give these countries more than boycott incentives, lip service and cash that rarely makes it to those in need.

I'm very, very thankful that you are keeping this issue at the forefront. Way too many people want to ignore the countless millions who will go to bed in fear tonight. But I'm so weary of trying all the "proper channels" without having access to the necessary ferocity to make sure those channels function.

The excursion into Iraq may have been folly, but the people are able to finally vote and engage in the global economy. All that the boycott of Iraq did in the 12 years prior is incite corruption, bureaucracy and produce unmedicated, starving children. Boycotts work against sane institutions and sane leaders. The insane ones must be broken down by those who know better: the local people, with the aid of compassionate national armies.

In short, if we boycott French industries because, for example they institute child labor, it is likely they would respond. French companies, while protectionistic, are also capitalists, and sane ones - they'll feel and respond to our economic "vote." The Sudan, however, will not - it is more economic for a corporation to practice open corruption than to concern itself with overseas purchases, if it is its corruption that makes the company economically viable in the first place! i.e. Activism functions best in nations and groups of nations that have or respect the rule of law. Activism can't function in failed states, because there are no paramaters to exert, no authority to call out (except the personal authority of the enemy which typically ends with a dead/imprisoned activist, God bless their courage.)

So, again, I totally, totally believe in the corporate/economic vote...but it has no effect (at best, ill at worst) on the corrupt nation or the corrupt company. Democracies must and always exert security first in those regions, followed closely by true liberty. One without the other will not do.



At 5:02 PM GMT-5, Blogger the prisoner said...

All that the boycott of Iraq did in the 12 years prior is incite corruption, bureaucracy and produce unmedicated, starving children. Boycotts work against sane institutions and sane leaders.

I totally agree. But mordern political consumerism has a lot less to do with boycotts as much as corporate accountability and hitting them where it hurts. And as powerful as nation states are and will continue to be in the next 50 years, I am becoming more concerned about multinational conglomerates and their role in these kinds of conflicts.

Democracy, capitalism are needed, but much more must be done. Else governments, under the guise of a democratic system, subjugate their people in the name of "anti-terrorism". Else corporations, under the guise of globalization reduce the standard of living for an entire industry in the name of "free trade".


At 8:51 AM GMT-5, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aha! You've hit it again. "under an entire industry..." Now, for those nations fortunate enough to have divers industries, no industry can truly be "controlled" by an oligarchy.

For those nations heavily dependent on natural resource production, this threat is clear, present and usually quite active. The solution is to aid those economies in progressive diversification, so that no single country is more than 50% dependent on natural resource production (a herculean objective, to be certain!)

The multinational corporation, in and of itself, is less my concern than the multinational corporation that is able to wiggle its finger into a corrupted, natural resource industry-dependent region. Basically they are able to monopolize (or at worst oligarchize) on a corrupt regime/industry relationship.

On the other hand, how can crippled nations and regions "attract" corporate investment, if not through corruption? Corporations are not aid organizations...they aren't going to invest in a bad venture out of the love of Jesus in their hearts. They will if they can get the guaranteed income of corruption. (Sad, huh?)

I believe that we can enact, through activism and national government participation, numerous protocols that defend against this poverty and oppression extending behavior on the part of nations and corporations.

However, those protocols must have the force of coalition military intervention, not global consensus, security measures.

i.e. 1) Liberty and Security First, followed swiftly by wise, long-term and productive capital 2) Protocols, Watchdogs and Activism Second (not that we can't do it "now," we just can't possibly expect positive results until the nations of concern have a baseline defense against slavery, rape, murder and war. Unfortunately, the only effective defense against that is a "stronger" force, including the real threat of violent regime change.


At 10:28 AM GMT-5, Blogger the prisoner said...

Now, for those nations fortunate enough to have diverse industries, no industry can truly be "controlled" by an oligarchy.

I tend to agree though I think both of our statements are little over-generalized, because it really depends on the dynamics of the industry.

The textiles industry has a very different dynamic than the oil industry. Some industries like telecommunications are always one card short of a monopoly, probably just because of the nature of the business.


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