Saturday, December 10, 2005

Won't go away

U.N. Official Faults U.S. Detentions:
Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, presented the most forceful criticism to date of U.S. detention policies by a senior U.N. official, asserting that holding suspects incommunicado in itself amounts to torture.

Arbour's statement said that the "absolute ban on torture, a cornerstone of the international human rights edifice, is under attack. The principle once believed to be unassailable -- the inherent right to physical integrity and dignity of person -- is becoming a casualty of the so-called 'war on terrorism.' "

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized Arbour, calling it "inappropriate" for her to choose a Human Rights Day celebration to criticize the United States instead of such rights abusers as Burma, Cuba and Zimbabwe. He also warned that it would undercut his efforts to negotiate formation of a new human rights council that would exclude countries with bad rights records.

"Today is Human Rights Day. It would be appropriate, I think, for the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights to talk about the serious human rights problems that exist in the world today," Bolton told reporters. "It is disappointing that she has chosen to talk about press commentary about alleged American conduct. I think the secretary of state has fully and completely addressed the substance of the allegations, so I won't go back into that again other than to reaffirm that the United States does not engage in torture."

He added: "I think it is inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we're engaged in in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspapers."

This happened on Wednesday (Human Rights Day) and I've been trying to pretend it didn't happen since I heard about it on Thursday.

Disclaimer 1: Burma is worse than the United States.

Disclaimer 2: One can criticize one thing without implicitly approving of every other thing (e.g., criticism of the US does not imply approval of Cuba or Burma).

I think that Human Rights Day is a day when it's appropriate for international civil servants, especially those responsible for monitoring human rights and enforcing things like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to criticize human rights abuses.

And turning people over to countries that torture is a human rights abuse. So is torturing people.

It's easy to criticize Burma (Myanmar) for being run by a military junta with no respect for democracy, free speech or basic liberties. It's easy to criticize little hick dictatorships that hook their citizens or the insurgents fighting against them up to electrodes. That sort of talk is cheap.

The United States hosts the U.N. Our former First Lady wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (with help from Nobel Peace Prize winner Rene Cassin). Our Constitution and Bill of Rights forms the basis for the modern concept of human rights.

We are an example, and if John "I am the Walrus" Bolton doesn't like being criticized, maybe he should tell someone to fix the problem rather than shooting the messenger.

The United States is more important than Burma. Its actions are subject to greater scrutiny. People use our actions as models for their own behavior. Do we want Hindu prisoners from Burma to be shuttled off to camps in Pakistan for them to be tortured? No. So let's not send our prisoners to Egypt to be tortured. (See disclaimer 1 above).

To conclude, I think it's inappropriate and illegitimate for a civil servant to criticize human rights professionals for taking human rights abusers to task.

I Think I Smell a Rat” by The White Stripes from the album White Blood Cells (2002, 2:04).