Thoughts on Human Rights Day

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Just a few brief thoughts on Human Rights Day. These are in no particular order, as they occur to me:

  • Whilst long-suspected, the revelations in the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Study on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme (“Torture Report“) have been shocking and seriously put the international reputation of the United States in serious jeopardy. Autocrats across the world have now been handed a rhetorical bludgeon whenever the State Department wishes to criticize their actions: “Why the anger? You did it too!”. Besides a range of damning revelations about misrepresentations towards Congress and executive branch agencies, what also stands out is that the caricature of the entire intelligence community marching in lockstep on the issue of torture (or if you’re from the diplomatic side of things: “enhanced interrogation techniques”) is a myth. According to the report, CIA officers openly questioned the need and efficacy of the tactics used by some of the interrogators. Needless to say that the discussion about the Torture Report only adds to America’s already somber week on civil and human rights issues – first, the Eric Garner grand jury decision causing protests across the country, and now the nation’s prime intelligence agency’s reputation effectively besmirched. In my view, what particularly stood out among some of the predictable reaction to the report was the very personal account by a victim of torture, Senator John McCain – the only prominent Republican to support the Obama Administration’s decision to publish the report. I will also be reviewing the report on here, but have quite simply not had the time to do it proper justice, so I ask for your patience as I work on a coherent analysis of the issues covered in the rather massive document that has been released (namely, the executive summary of 530 pages, rather than the 6,000-page long report itself).
  • There is a danger of this debate being squarely focused on America. What about China and its dismal human rights record? For instance, the Chinese and Russians are expected to block a UN-recommended referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court in the UN Security Council. Besides the periodical questions this raises about the utility of a circa-1945 state of play being reflected in the Security Council’s composition, the question remains why more pressure is not being exerted on the Chinese to agree to the ICC referral. The relationship between China and the West is complex – but China needs us as much as our companies need the Chinese market. North Korea’s gruesome human rights record must be tackled, and fast.
  • Under its new regime, Egypt has issued a third mass death sentence this year. This time, the judge sentenced 188 suspects to death for an attack on a police station in the Giza district. Democracy, due process and judicial probity certainly look different from what the country at the Nile has to offer up right now.
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