Image credit: Geneva Environment Network. - Photo: 2022

The West Is Exposing Itself to Double Standards by Weaponizing Human Rights

Viewpoint by Kalinga Seneviratne

BANGKOK (IDN) — The recently concluded 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva exposed once again the double standards of the global human rights agenda.

West’s failure to get a resolution adopted at the UNHRC on October 6 on further investigation into the violation of human rights of the Muslim Uighurs in the north-western region of Xinjiang province in China reflects the international community’s scepticism of weaponizing human rights.

Interestingly the western bloc of countries that sponsored the resolution could not even get the votes of India and Ukraine for it, as well as majority Muslim countries such as Qatar, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Uzbekistan and UAE voted in favour of China, while Libya and Malaysia abstain.

Before the vote, China angrily described the UNHRC report—that was hastily put together after the outgoing UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s visit to Xinjiang in May—as a “patchwork of false information” and a fabrication cooked up by the western nations and their supporters. China issued its own 122-page rebuttal of the accusations.

In response to China’s criticisms, Jeffrey Prescott, a deputy United States ambassador to the UN, suggested the integrity of the institution was at stake in its response to China. “How these atrocities are addressed goes ultimately to the credibility of that system, to the credibility of our international system itself,” he said.

But in June 2018, the US itself questioned the credibility of the system when the Trump administration withdrew from the UNHRC, with the then US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Hayley describing the organisation as a “hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights”. The US withdrew in protest against a UNHRC vote to probe the killings of scores of Palestinian protestors in the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces as a possible war crime.

It is due to these double standards on human rights that UNHRC has usually shielded away from probing any of the alleged war crimes of the US and NATO forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan in the past two decades that have led to many non-western countries losing faith in the UN human rights mechanisms.

This is epitomised by the UNHRC’s witch-hunt against Sri Lanka—since Colombo eliminated the terror group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009—using unproven allegations of war crimes against Sri Lankan armed forces. At the 51st session this month, for the 7th time since 2009, UNHRC adopted a resolution against Sri Lanka, this time adding economic crimes committed by the government to the list at a time the country is trying desperately to overcome a severe economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2009, Sri Lanka has argued that it is more important to rebuild the infrastructure of communities in the Tamil-dominated northeast of the country than focus on accountability issues the UNHRC is pushing for that could reopen old ethnic wounds. Sri Lanka has made a classic “development rights” case over the West’s “individual rights” agenda.

Each time these resolutions were adopted, they were supported by a bloc of western countries along with South Korea, Japan, and a handful of western satellite states. Those voting against or abstaining constituted more countries than those voting for it. This time 20 countries voted for the western resolution, while another 20 abstained and seven voted against it.

Following the vote, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Ali Sabry said that this resolution will make it even harder for Sri Lanka to come out of the economic crisis because key trade concessions like Europe’s GSP Plus are tied directly to human rights. It is these intrusive human rights agendas that infringe on a country’s sovereignty that China is trying to change from within the UN system with a concerted “development rights” push.

At the 47th session of UNHRC last year, China successfully navigated a resolution titled “contribution of development to enjoyment of all human rights”. This resolution said, among others, that development aims to constantly improve the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals … and the important role of inclusive and sustainable development in promoting and protecting human rights and stressing the importance of development cooperation.

The resolution was carried with 31 votes for and 14 against, with those voting against including 12 European nations along with Japan and South Korea. The Chinese resolution was supported by both India and Pakistan and most other Asian and African members of the 47-member UN body.

Coming back to the double standards of the West’s human rights agenda, it is interesting to note that China, in its rebuttal of UNHRC allegations, pointed out that the so-called “concentration camps” in Xinjian are “vocational education training centres” (VETC) that are necessary to deal with extremism. China accused the western media of spreading a false narrative.

Such “de-radicalisation” programs involving terrorism detainees have been in existence elsewhere since about 2006. Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies was one of the first to establish such a program when a batch of prisoners—former members of the LTTE in Sri Lanka—were de-radicalized and sent back to society.

These programs are established under the belief that the causes of terrorism can be addressed by changing the terrorists’ attitudes and ways of thinking.

Saudi Arabia has established such a program and the government claims 80 per cent of the militants targeted have been rehabilitated. Since 2008, the US has conducted a deradicalization program for over 10,000 prisoners in Iraq. European governments such as Denmark and the UK have recently introduced pilot deradicalization programs.

A report published by the Rand Corporation last year says, “despite the reservations of the many sceptics, deradicalization and counter-radicalization programs seem to be gaining popularity, which is probably due to the dawning realization that security measures alone will not defeat violent Islamist extremism”.

why are such programs run by China criticized? One may argue it is because China is not as open as other countries, but are Singapore and Saudi Arabia open either? And what about the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention camps that still function under strict secrecy?

While UNHRC alleges that China’s VETCs are centres of “torture, ill-treatment and in poor conditions”, China argues that Xinjiang’s education and training policies are a “concrete example of China’s efforts to implement UN action plans as well as international initiatives and concepts on counter-terrorism and de-radicalization”. [IDN-InDepthNews — 09 October 2022]

Image credit: Geneva Environment Network.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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