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Western human rights activism, where is the real humanity?

Each year, the U.S. Department of State publishes the annual “The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” to U.S. Congress, and Western human rights activists and media use it to condemn governments around the world.  In response, China has started in the last few years publishing her own annual reports on the U.S. human rights violations.  The most recent was carried on China Daily, March 12, 2010, in the article, “US Human Rights Record in 2009.” It said:

“As in previous years, the (US) reports are full of accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China, but turn a blind eye to, or dodge and even cover up rampant human rights abuses on its own territory,” said the Information Office of the State Council in its report on the US human rights record.
It criticized the United States for taking human rights as “a political instrument to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, defame other nations’ image and seek its own strategic interests.”

Really, is there real humanity behind these so-called “human rights” activism from the West? If we believe weapons proliferation adds to the miseries of our world’s conflicts and undermines peace, then the answer is a resounding “NO.”  Below is a chart showing how much weapon the U.S. sold in 2008 compared with the rest of the world.

U.S. weapons proliferation is not a recent trend either.  According to this Federation of American Scientists article:

U.S.-origin weapons find their way into conflicts the world over. The United States supplied arms or military technology to more than 92% of the conflicts under way in 1999. The costs to the families and communities afflicted by this violence is immeasurable. But to most arms dealers, the profit accumulated outweighs the lives lost. In the period from 1998-2001, over 68% of world arms deliveries were sold or given to developing nations, where lingering conflicts or societal violence can scare away potential investors.

Another article, “U.S. Weapons at War 2008 (Executive Summary)” said:

Of the 27 major conflicts under way during 2006/07, 20 involved one or more parties that had received arms and training from the United States.

In the Harvard International Review‘s July 2008 issue, Oscar Aria Sanchez, Costa Rica President, and the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner (for his efforts to end civil wars across Central America through the Esquipulas II Accords) said this in an interview:

As we all know, war is an industry, providing multimillion- dollar profits for companies and countries that engage in it. Peace threatens those profits, and often results in decreased support for those who achieve it. One needs to look no further than Central America for an eloquent example. Our peace process in the 1980s resulted in the withdrawal of foreign aid for a region that desperately needed resources to rebuild its countries and provide for its people.

In 1987, when the presidents of Central America signed the Esquipulas Accords that ended the civil wars in our region, we asked for help. We wrote, “There are Central American ways to achieve peace and development, but we need assistance to make them a reality. [We ask for] international treatment that would guarantee [our] development so the peace we seek will be a lasting one.”

When we took this step toward peace, we thought that help would come. But nations that sent money and arms with lightning speed during our time of war and darkness proved slow to shine their generosity upon us afterward. Though Central America has received small increases in development aid, the total is still far less than the aid wealthy countries sent when weapons and troops were involved. After 20 years, we all see a stark bottom line: Central America has been punished for achieving peace.

  1. March 18th, 2010 at 05:31 | #1

    Great Article yinyang!

    I think its about time that someone took the US to book over its own Human rights record and other hypocritical practices. And I’m very glad that China has decided to do so in case of Human rights in a concrete fashion – Something which other countries generally shy away from.

    Even in the case of Akmal Shaikh, that drug smuggler who was given the death sentence some months ago, we again see an example of the West’s double standards: http://indiaschinablog.blogspot.com/2010/02/akmal-shaikh-britains-double-standards.html

    Oscar Aria Sanchez’s comments also bring home the fact that what China is doing in regions like Central America; and also Africa, is quite different from how the developed world has treated those regions.

    US tactics are in fact very clear and consistent – Create more hostile conditions between two already hostile neighbours; and then sell weapons to both.

    For example, a few years, the US sold F-16s to Pakistan. India protested. The result – It sold India F-16s too!
    We see such behaviour everywhere – Israel/Palestine, China/Taiwan, India/Pakistan.

  2. March 18th, 2010 at 10:38 | #2

    @YinYang, Maitreya,

    I agree to some extent with both what you wrote. But I wonder to what extent we want the U.S. to change.

    If the U.S. is an equal opportunity weapons seller (it sells to whoever has the money to buy – which it is not, since a lot of these are bought with U.S. aid or transferred as part of U.S. aid package), then we say indiscriminate U.S. is selling irresponsibly. If the U.S. is more discriminate in its selling, people may say U.S. is taking sides.

    I don’t like the U.S. selling weapons around the world. But what should the U.S. do? Stop selling weapons and persist the current arms status quo around the world? Be more selective about weapons and sell only to promote a more “peaceful” world – with the caveat that “peacefulness” is defined through American perspectives?

  3. March 18th, 2010 at 14:31 | #3

    @Allen, Maitreya,

    I think the key issue is U.S. politicizing human rights in which it shouldn’t in the first place.


    U.S. deciding to so narrowly define human rights so as to completely ingore death and destructions from acts like invasion and weapons proliferation, then that is also wrong.

    In both cases, human rights have been hijacked by the U.S. and Western activist as a political tool.

    (That is not to say there are no true human rights activists in the West – those folks acting with real humanity. They are already doing great work around the world. They approach their work without the “human rights” rhetoric as in the U.S. report. They simply do not politicize the issue.)

    As in Allen’s recent article, “What Exactly is the Developing World – a talk by Prof. Hans Rosling from Sweden”, Professor Hans Rosling purposedly stopped his presentation to acknowledge U.S.’s contribution in making data available and for sharing survey techniques with the world which help improved human rights around the world.

    That is an act of humanity on the U.S.’s part.

    Back to Allen’s question of “what should the U.S. do?” My thoughts:

    1. Stop politicizing human rights as a pretext to justify her policies.
    2. Join and ratify weapons proliferations treaties as other major powers have done.
    3. Comply with those treaties obligations.
    4. Reduce the level of spending in military operations and weapons production to help balance the U.S. budget.

    Selling more weapons is not the answer to conflicts. Strengthen U.N. and supply it with manpower (as the case with China) is the more responsible way to achieve peace.

  4. Otto Kerner
    March 18th, 2010 at 16:53 | #4

    How much overlap do you imagine there is between Western human rights activists and Western arms dealers? Or are you incapable of dealing in categories finer than simply “Americans”, etc.?

    I agree that there is a certain absurdity to the idea of the U.S. government publishes human rights assessments on other countries. The Chinese report on human rights in the U.S. is a useful and amusing parody.

  5. March 18th, 2010 at 17:47 | #5

    Or are you incapable of dealing in categories finer than simply “Americans”, etc.?

    I think you are still missing the point.

    The “arms dealers” and the “Western human rights activists” are in the same camp in their lack of humanity – the “activists” need to focus on #1, #2, #3, and #4 on the U.S. government with equal rigor. That’s the overlap you are looking for.

  6. March 19th, 2010 at 08:35 | #6


    The US is an equal opportunity weapons seller in the sense that it sells weapons to most countries indiscriminately (with special focus on hostile neighbors!), except a few so called ‘rogue states’. It even sold weapons to Pakistan even when it was a dictatorship – not to mention its proliferation record.

    The US again shows double standards over human rights. For example, it sells weapons to Saudi Arabia despite its human rights record.

    “I don’t like the U.S. selling weapons around the world. But what should the U.S. do? Stop selling weapons and persist the current arms status quo around the world?”

    Well, I think that the commissions are certainly not worth the bargain! (of relative peace). The US exploits this status quo, which occasionally is in favour of one neighbor, giving the excuse that weapons sales will “maintain the balance”.

    Not to mention the fact that weapons manufacturers are some of the biggest contributors to party funds and have many lobbyists within the government….

    Now all this begs the question – Is it justified to sell weapons to a country simply because it is a democracy?

  7. March 23rd, 2010 at 14:23 | #7

    Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had an Op-Ed in the Washington Post in 2006 where he criticized the U.S. policy on NPT:


    A Dangerous Deal with India
    Jimmy Carter
    29 Mar 2006

    This op-ed was published in the March 29, 2006, edition of The Washington Post
    During the past five years the United States has abandoned many of the nuclear arms control agreements negotiated since the administration of Dwight Eisenhower. This change in policies has sent uncertain signals to other countries, including North Korea and Iran, and may encourage technologically capable nations to choose the nuclear option. The proposed nuclear deal with India is just one more step in opening a Pandora’s box of nuclear proliferation.
    The only substantive commitment among nuclear-weapon states and others is the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), accepted by the five original nuclear powers and 182 other nations. Its key objective is “to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology . . . and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament.” At the five-year U.N. review conference in 2005, only Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan were not participating — three with proven arsenals.
    Our government has abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and spent more than $80 billion on a doubtful effort to intercept and destroy incoming intercontinental missiles, with annual costs of about $9 billion. We have also forgone compliance with the previously binding limitation on testing nuclear weapons and developing new ones, with announced plans for earth-penetrating “bunker busters,” some secret new “small” bombs, and a move toward deployment of destructive weapons in space. Another long-standing policy has been publicly reversed by our threatening first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. These decisions have aroused negative responses from NPT signatories, including China, Russia and even our nuclear allies, whose competitive alternative is to upgrade their own capabilities without regard to arms control agreements.
    Last year former defense secretary Robert McNamara summed up his concerns in Foreign Policy magazine: “I would characterize current U.S. nuclear weapons policy as immoral, illegal, militarily unnecessary, and dreadfully dangerous.”
    It must be remembered that there are no detectable efforts being made to seek confirmed reductions of almost 30,000 nuclear weapons worldwide, of which the United States possesses about 12,000, Russia 16,000, China 400, France 350, Israel 200, Britain 185, India and Pakistan 40 each — and North Korea has sufficient enriched nuclear fuel for a half-dozen. A global holocaust is just as possible now, through mistakes or misjudgments, as it was during the depths of the Cold War.
    Knowing for more than three decades of Indian leaders’ nuclear ambitions, I and all other presidents included them in a consistent policy: no sales of civilian nuclear technology or uncontrolled fuel to any country that refused to sign the NPT.
    There was some fanfare in announcing that India plans to import eight nuclear reactors by 2012, and that U.S. companies might win two of those reactor contracts, but this is a minuscule benefit compared with the potential costs. India may be a special case, but reasonable restraints are necessary. The five original nuclear powers have all stopped producing fissile material for weapons, and India should make the same pledge to cap its stockpile of nuclear bomb ingredients. Instead, the proposal for India would allow enough fissile material for as many as 50 weapons a year, far exceeding what is believed to be its current capacity.
    So far India has only rudimentary technology for uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing, and Congress should preclude the sale of such technology to India. Former senator Sam Nunn said that the current agreement “certainly does not curb in any way the proliferation of weapons-grade nuclear material.” India should also join other nuclear powers in signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
    There is no doubt that condoning avoidance of the NPT encourages the spread of nuclear weaponry. Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, Argentina and many other technologically advanced nations have chosen to abide by the NPT to gain access to foreign nuclear technology. Why should they adhere to self-restraint if India rejects the same terms? At the same time, Israel’s uncontrolled and unmonitored weapons status entices neighboring leaders in Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other states to seek such armaments, for status or potential use. The world has observed that among the “axis of evil,” nonnuclear Iraq was invaded and a perhaps more threatening North Korea has not been attacked.
    The global threat of proliferation is real, and the destructive capability of irresponsible nations — and perhaps even some terrorist groups — will be enhanced by a lack of leadership among nuclear powers that are not willing to restrain themselves or certain chosen partners. Like it or not, the United States is at the forefront in making these crucial strategic decisions. A world armed with nuclear weapons could be a terrible legacy of the wrong choices.
    Former President Carter, a Democrat, is founder of the Carter Center.

  8. r v
    March 24th, 2010 at 17:09 | #8


    A society is collectively responsible for the greatness some of its members achieve, but also responsible for the great sins that some of its members bring about.

    Afterall, American society pride itself on its “diversity”. Thus, unless US has divided itself into monolithic clumps of individual parties and political causes, you “the People” are responsible for the sins of each other.

    If you don’t want to be responsible for the “arms dealers'” sins, you can always democratic pass laws to ban such arms dealing.

    But you don’t, and your governments offer the protection of your laws for these arms dealers.

    So why shouldn’t you be held as responsible collectively? Afterall, you are the ones who “democratically” allowed the arms dealers to turn in you into shields for their protection.


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