It is about time that the US got off its high horse on human rights and understood that taking other nations to task on their human rights record is akin to throwing stones in glass houses. The latest recipient of the seemingly obligatory lecture is China.
The US president is just one of China’s guests out of many arriving to attend the G20 Summit. Firstly, his delegation headed by Susan Rice was miffed because they didn’t get a requested moving staircase and had to disembark from their plane using a different exit, which meant poor Obama had to walk a few steps to the Red carpet.
According to the Guardian newspaper, there was a row between members of the president’s retinue and Chinese officials with one filmed saying, “This is our country; this is our airport.”
Secondly, rather than use diplomacy and respect to win over his Chinese hosts, the “Leader of the Free World” so called threatened China not to engage in “muscle flexing” in the South China Sea and he emphasized his nation’s unwavering support for human rights. “China opposes any other country interfering in its internal affairs in the name of human rights issues,” retorted President Xi Jinping, echoing the stance the stance of Cuba’s President Raul Castro during Obama’s first official visit to the island where his reception at the airport was also classed as a snub.
Acting more like a schoolteacher than someone seeking to mend bridges, Obama proudly revealed that he had “spoken frankly” to Castro on the topic of human rights, free expression and democracy. At a press conference, the Cuban president lashed out criticizing Guantanamo Bay, which is a major stain on America’s own human rights record. “We defend human rights. In our view, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and indivisible, interdependent and universal,” said Castro. Actually, we find it inconceivable that a government does not defend and ensure the right to health care, education, social security with provision and development, equal pay and the rights of children. We oppose political manipulation and double standard in the approach to human rights.”
Here’s the problem. The US uses human rights a tool with which to bash other countries that don’t conform to touted western values and human rights agencies based in the US, not to mention the UN secretariat, follow Washington’s line. Human Rights Watch, in particular, has been accused of being a revolving door for the CIA and the State Department. The tribe has now ganged-up against Saudi Arabia for the Kingdom’s intervention in Yemen to protect its borders and to return the legitimate president to that stricken country.
Moreover, there are differences in what constitutes human rights. Prime among all others is the right to life, which the Obama administration has abused with its drone program that’s killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians.
Second is the right to shelter. A November 2015 report published by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development asserts that 565,000 Americans ¬— a quarter of them children — were living on the streets or in cars, shelters or subsidized transitional housing. New Mexico evicted homeless people from tented encampments.
Third is the right to food. Tens of US cities in 28 states have criminalized the kind-hearted who feed the homeless. A chef in Texas who’s been giving free food to the homeless for 10 years was fined $2,000 for her charitable endeavor.
Fourth is the right to live in dignity and safety. The US certainly cannot pat itself on the back on this score when police and the justice system are skewed in favor of Caucasians. African Americans get longer sentences for committing the same crime as their white counterparts, are regularly stopped and searched by police officers while a growing toll of unarmed black Americans have been gunned down or mercilessly beaten.
Fifth is the right to medical treatment. As of September, 2015, 33 million Americans were without health insurance.
Shockingly in one of the world’s richest countries 47 million Americans were living under the poverty line, according to the US Census Bureau. I happened to catch a recently aired documentary suggesting 20 million Americans were subsisting on less than two or three dollars a day, many living throughout their lives in shacks without electricity and running water just miles away from Washington D.C.
Yes, Americans do have the right to vote but how’s that working for them when they end up being forced to choose between a woman investigated by the FBI and a bigoted multiple bankrupt who claims, rightly as it happens, that the system is rigged. And they do enjoy the right of protest.
They can flood the streets, chanting slogans and waving banners but, again, what good does that ever do them? They failed to stop the Vietnam War or the invasion of Iraq. The police are still shooting first and asking questions later when confronted with an African American they judge suspicious. And in Wall Street it’s business as usual.
It’s up to every sovereign country to prioritize human rights based on religious, cultural, economic and security concerns. Looking-in from the outside through a western idealistic prism when one’s own homeland doesn’t practice what it preaches is nothing but arrogance and hypocrisy and, more, if the intended goal is to persuade a leadership to mend its ways then such interference is likely to have the opposite effect.