15 May 2008

Human Rights - a Challenge for us all

There is hardly any politician in the civilised world who will not publicly commit himself (and his party) to respect, uphold and defend Human Rights. This is good, and a great achievement for many campaigning groups and organisations (of whom the most prominent is undoubtedly Amnesty International). After all, only 65 years ago the world's nations were occupied with killing and destroying each other, and two centuries ago slavery was still seen as 'normal' by the majority of political (and religious!) leaders.

However, when it comes to implement the well-spoken words into policies and action, the record of the same politicians is far less impressive. In fact some of the most vociferous supporters of Human Rights are regularly found to be liars and hypocrites, who abuse in practice the same Human Rights they seem to support and uphold in their speeches.

The list of these politicians is long, too long to be published here. But I am sure that most readers will know plenty of the names that come to my mind. So I will concentrate for today - May 15th, the day Bloggers unite in a concerted international action for Human Rights - on some of the worst cases and their words and deeds.

Undoubtedly the worst hypocrite of our time is George W. Bush, who takes every opportunity to speak about "freedom, democracy and human rights". How much would one wish that he actually means what he says. But the most powerful man alive on this planet always speaks - as Native Americans used to put it so fittingly - with a forked tongue.
Occasionally he makes public gestures, such as awarding some medal or accolade to prominent Human Rights' campaigners and sufferers from political oppression and injustice. They include the Dalai Lama (above left) and Aung San Suu Kyi (above right), who are both the legitimate leaders of their nations - Tibet and Burma - and both recipients of the Nobel Prize for Peace.

But the same George W. Bush is responsible for the worst crimes and Human Rights' abuses in modern time. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the ongoing illegal occupation of these countries by US and allied troops (for seven and five years respectively) have killed more than a million people, most of them innocent civilians. Even more were wounded, and further millions - including more than four million Iraqis - were made homeless and driven into exile as refugees: homeless, jobless, penniless and by now almost forgotten by the world. Bush is also responsible for the systematic torture of thousands of political prisoners - at Guantanamo Bay and in secret CIA prisons in foreign countries - and has personally vetoed the banning of the infamous torture technique named 'Waterboarding' by the CIA. In fact it is simulated drowning and was originally invented by the Inquisition of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.
The CIA, with Bush's personal approval, re-introduced this barbaric method some years ago. For that alone Bush and every CIA agent involved should be brought to the International Court of Justice. Sadly that is not going to happen, as the USA simply do not recognise the court.

One should also remember that the same George W. Bush, during his time as governor of Texas, had more prisoners executed than all other US states together. Nearly 200 US citizens died in six years on the orders of Governor Bush.
More than 4000 US soldiers have died meanwhile in Iraq, where he sends them as his human killing machines, and nearly 500 in Afghanistan. Additionally the lives of more than 60,000 US soldiers are blighted forever by serious wounds, many of them so severe that they will disable the wounded soldiers for life.

There is no shortage of public criticism of Bush, his henchmen and their criminal actions, but it only comes from ordinary people, including academics, writers, journalists and bloggers. Hardly any fellow politician has the guts to stand up and speak openly against the murderer, torturer and hypocrite in the White House.

As recommendable exceptions one has to mention Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (right), Bolivia's President Evo Morales and Cuba's new leader Raul Castro - three men whose countries and people have suffered more than enough from US imperialism. They are not only very brave, honest and courageous, but also very popular with the people.
So there is, after all, some hope...

The vast majority of the world's political leaders, ministers and parliamentarians are cowardly bowing before Bush and his regime of systematic Human Rights' abusers. I suppose that some countries are simply too small and too weak to even raise their voice against the USA. But what about the strong nations?
When has one ever heard a critical word from Japan, still the second-largest economy on the planet? And how does Europe fare? The mighty European Union (EU) with meanwhile 27 member states is sadly also a gathering of hypocrites and lickspittles, following eagerly the lead provided by the White House. No-one seems to have learned any lessons from history, as if Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and a dozen other dictators of the 20th century had never existed.
In our schools children learn little enough about them and their crimes, and what they learn there are usually stereotypes and twisted half-truths. Those in power are not really interested in well-educated and informed people. Tranquil and half-witted consumers, addicted to alcohol and various other drugs, are much easier to rule and control than enlightened and active citizens.

Subsequently there is little awareness - and even less open criticism - of the world's modern dictators and oppressive regimes. Since Russia is supposed to be our friend now, we close our eyes completely on its dark sides. There are no reports in our media about the brutal war in Chechnya, where Russian troops kill civilians at will and behave even worse than the Americans in Iraq. No mentioning
either of the crimes against humanity that go on inside Russia, where power is now shared between ex-KGB officers (like Prime Minister and ex-President Vladimir Putin) and a mafia of common criminals which is well-organised, well-armed and absolutely ruthless. Anyone who dares to stand in their way, or even to speak about them in public, is in mortal danger. The number of journalists, writers and Human Rights' activists that have been murdered in Russia since 1991 is growing ever larger. If it were not for Amnesty International, we would never hear and know about them.

An even crueller and more cynical regime rules China, which has become a truly hybrid country: A totalitarian Communist state with absolute power, exercised by the one existing party, but with a more and more capitalist and consumerist mentality and society. Having enough manpower, available at very low cost, China has turned itself into the biggest workshop on the planet, manufacturing now about 85% of all basic consumer goods for the industrialised countries of the West. Many
western books are also printed there, by people who cannot read English, while China is still blocking and filtering news from the free world, especially online.

Currently the country is in Olympic fever, preparing for this year's games in the capital Beijing. In a very Confucianist way the Chinese leadership is using the event also to humiliate the West (and the rest of the world) and make them bow before China's new industrial power. Protesters against the brutal occupation of Tibet (since 1952) are arrested, beaten up or simply shot in the streets, while at the same time the Olympic flame is paraded around the world by the Chinese in an unprecedented way. Showing off their newly gained strength, the Chinese leadership demanded that a stick with a flame would be treated by the world's major nations like a head of state, with 2000 policemen out on duty in London, and a similar sad spectacle in Paris.
In the past the flame travelled around a host country, carried by numerous athletes. There has never been any need for police or security, and everyone along the way cheered happily. But this year things are different. China managed to turn the Olympic flame - once a symbol of free sporting contest between the youth of the world - into a symbol of hypocrisy and oppression. The fact alone that it is surrounded at all times by ten burly 'flame attendants' (a job and word that did not exist until the Chinese government created it) says enough. It is a spectacle for political reasons, and like Hitler in 1936 the Chinese leaders use the Olympic Games to show off their newly gained strength.

What is the reaction of the 'free' world? Silence, ignorance and complacency. Having a few hundred hours of sports on TV this summer seems more important to most of us than the political conditions in China, and the freedom and well-being of the people of Tibet plays almost no role in most Westerners mind. Bestowing the odd honour on the Dalai Lama now and then is nothing but poor window dressing and no help for the Tibetans at all.
Being in economical hock to China now, the West is caught in its own trap. The capitalist demand for ever cheaper products, manufactured for less and less cost, has lead to the outsourcing of our manufacturing industry. Most brands you can think of as famous, fashionable and stylish in the West have their goods produced in Chinese sweatshops for years. People still pay high western prices for them, while a pittance is paid to Chinese workers. The balance fills the pockets of the super-rich in the USA, Japan and Europe.

In order to produce all the things the world wants to buy, China is in need of huge amounts of resources and raw materials. This has lead to a new form of neo-colonialism, especially in Africa, where now China call the shots in many of the 'independent' African countries. This suits many African leaders a lot better than co-operation with the West, because China never makes any comments or demands on them regarding Human Rights. Thus China is very happy to be the main supporter and arms supplier of the militant Islamic regime in Sudan, which commits genocide on a large scale in their western province of Darfur. The western world stands stunned and gapes, shouts and makes demands. The result: no change.
If our politicians would really be interested in Human Rights and the protection of innocent people from all kinds of harm and oppression, the US Army would be in Sudan instead of Iraq. (And there is even oil in Sudan...)

Africa is a subject one could - and should - write books about. It is a vast continent, with vast resources and riches. It could be feeding itself easily, produce plenty of food for export and give its people a live of great wealth and comfort. So why is it that Africa is the poorest, least developed and most suffering of all the continents?
Once again it comes down to the will of political leaders to act or not, to uphold Human Rights or to prefer shady deals with warlords and cleptocrats instead. Due to western hypocrisy and the selfish greed and brutal methods of Africa's tribal leaders the continent is experiencing now four decades of war, instability, turmoil and economic collapse. The obvious results are famine, genocide, destruction and the complete decline of culture and society, in the absence of law, order and proper administration.
Western countries, and especially the former colonial powers, carry a lot of the responsibility for this. But like the Thirty-Years War that devastated central Europe and especially Germany in the 17th century in a similar fashion, the catastrophe has many fathers and could not happen without the co-operation of the willing soldiers on the ground. The Thirty-Years War only ended when both sides ran out of people, food and other resources, after destroying and depopulating vast areas of Germany. If no alternatives are offered by the world's leaders - and especially the leaders of powerful nations - this is most likely the fate of Africa, too. They will carry on killing each other, destroying their infrastructure and devastating their fertile lands until no one has enough power and resources left to carry on.

One cannot write about Africa at present without mentioning Zimbabwe, where President Robert Gabriel Mugabe - a Jesuit-educated Catholic - has declared total war on the entire population. Having destroyed the economy of this once rich, prosperous and very fertile country, Mugabe is now bullying his people with brute force into submission, trying to make them elect him again as President. With over 80% unemployment and meanwhile 250,000% inflation (which is a sad all-time world record, making even the massive inflation that blighted Germany in the 1920s look insignificant) Zimbabwe is on its knees. Most people spend all their time with nothing else but searching for a little bit of food, in order to survive another day.

Mugabe (pictured here in one of his Rolls Royce state cars at an official function) and his clique of criminal henchmen still live a life in luxury, while ordinary people have two choices: death by starvation or fleeing into neighbouring countries. There are now nearly four million Zimbabweans living in South Africa alone. Nevertheless, South Africa's spineless President Thabo M'beki sees "no crisis in Zimbabwe". His lack of leadership, action and humanity makes him one of the worst of the political hypocrites alive, and even his own people have now lost confidence in him and elected Jacob Zuma as the new leader of their ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC).

The list of Human Rights' abuses and hypocritical politicians is long, and so is
meanwhile this text. There is so much more one could say and write, but I will draw to a close, to keep this article to a readable length. One could, however, not end a post about Human Rights without mentioning Burma. This poor and long-suffering country, almost unknown to most Westerners, is currently experiencing its probably worst period in centuries.
Devastated by the forces of cyclone 'Nargis', which wiped out whole communities and killed a very large, but still unknown number of people (the early estimates are between 70,000 and 250,000), the south-western part of Burma, including the largest city (and former capital) Rangoon, is a disater area for the past two weeks.
Despite that, and the inability to deal with a catastrophe of that dimension alone, the Burmese military junta is still refusing foreign aid workers visas and entry to their country. In an act of cruel cynicism, matched only by Stalin and Hitler, the Burmese generals went ahead with a nationwide referendum on a new constitution (which will keep them in power for the foreseeable future) while people died of injuries and starvation unattended on the roads outside the polling stations!
Once again western politicians made speeches and demands, and than backed down and left it at that. France is the only western country that suggested to invoke a special clause in the UN Charta which allows foreign intervention under exceptional circumstances, even without co-operation from the target country's government. But since no-one else picked up the idea, it died even faster than the victims of cyclone 'Nargis' in Burma.

If the leaders of the western world were serious in their many verbal commitments to freedom, democracy and Human Rights, American and international troops would not be in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in Burma, Chad, Congo, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. There would be no jovial business deals with the Russians, and no bowing down before the cruelties of the Chinese.
But as long as the majority of people in the western countries does not care, keeps electing the wrong people to positions of power and prefers getting drunk to taking an active part in politics, there will be no change.

No-one can change the world single-handed, but every single hand put to a good cause will help to make the world a little bit better. The challenge is there, for you, me and everyone. Let's see who takes it up, let's see if we want a decent future for this planet and the human race!

The Emerald Islander

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