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Imagine your obnoxious neighbor giving you an “F” grade for parenting

Imagine your obnoxious neighbor giving you an “F” grade for parenting. He is the richest and has the neighborhood’s gangsters loyal to him. What do you do? He has even molested some children in your neighborhood.

There is a reason why the annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” by the United States is formulated by the Department of State. It is a foreign policy instrument. If the U.S. truly cares about human rights, the country would be providing basic drugs to the poorest nations and irradicate easily curable diseases around the globe. It would be giving away food. It would not be killing innocent Iraqi and Afghani children.

Note also that it conveniently leaves out the United States in the report. The report is designed to dehumanize governments abroad for the American public. It is designed to help maximize legitimcy for the American government domestically. It is a propaganda tool. It is to rally support in case the U.S. government wants to go after any other government on the planet.

If you have been given an “F” grade, what do you do? Well, you calmly explain to your children that if they interact with the obnoxious family’s members, remember to tell them that it is wrong to molest others. You also acknowledge to your children some of the legitimate things that went towards the “F” grade and explain what is the best strategy to improve.

You also ask your children for ideas on how they’d like to improve. Their buy-in is important.

Invariably you will have rebellious children who believe the best way forward is to divorce the parents. That obnoxious neighbor even buys candy and toys for these kids.

Of course, you can start grading this obnoxious neighbor too. (See “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010.”)  Knowing how other parents in the neighborhood feel about this particular neighbor, you can build solidarity in the community.

And that’s why in the U.N., the U.S. never “win” on “human rights” related resolutions. In foreign policy, the U.S. is completely neutered where “human rights” is concerned. She still invades other countries on “human rights” grounds, but that is because she cannot obtain mandate from the U.N..

Bombing of Libya on “humanitarian” grounds? To bring real humanity against violence in Libya is to put U.N. santioned troops on the ground. Why isn’t this point considered by the American public? Well, if the report each year gives Qadhafi’s government an “F,” the American public has steadily been prepared to one day support the bombing. You see how this report works? As I have said, the report is a foreign policy tool.

BUT, let’s assume there is genuity in this report. Then, the proper way to do it is to have it authored in a neutral international body. For an insightful discussion on the issues behind that, look at this article by Oli, “On Human Rights, Intervention and the International Order.”

The funny thing is, there are genuine concerns for humanity across America. The Gates Foundation, for example, does a lot of humanitarian work. Americans are generous in donating to world disasters. The true advocates of human rights do not operate under the banners of the U.S. Department of State. They don’t chant “human rights” either.

As Clinton said, this is all a “statecraft:”

As part of our mission to update statecraft for the 21st century, today I’m also pleased to announce the launch of our new website, humanrights.gov.

The irony out of all this is that Clinton is actually honest about what this report is all about, but the U.S. media is full of propaganda. Take CNN’s Fareed Zakaria’s article, for example. (CNN, mind you, supposedly a “liberal” media.)

In criticizing China’s report on the U.S., Zakaria said:

It goes by the title “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010.” They have been putting out such a report for years, but every year it gets bolder. This one has an almost gleeful tone and key punch lines like this: “The United States has always called itself ‘land of freedom,’ but the number of inmates in the country is the world’s largest.” That, according to China, is a human rights violation.

Then it goes on to cite figures that have no bearing on human rights violations as such – unemployment numbers, the number of people going hungry, gun ownership and so on.

The report loses itself and takes away from the more serious charges it does make about Guantanamo Bay and CIA detention facilities. The Chinese government should get the report done by serious Chinese scholars, of whom there are many, rather than the propaganda department of its Communist Party, which seems to have written this one.

Why can’t America fix her society so fewer people end up in prison? That is a metric of human rights.

Citing unrelated figures? Zakaria purposefully ignored section “VI. On US Violations of Human Rights against Other Nations.” That is just dishonest. Killing people abroad is not a violation of human rights?

The Chinese report is in fact written by China’s Information Office of the State Council. It pulled information from the U.S. media.

Gitmo is a disgrace. The Chinese report is a “propaganda” tool, but that is only in response to the U.S. report in the first place.

IF the U.S. one day turns over the exercise of grading everybody to the U.N., I would support it. This is a leadership opportunity the U.S. so far has squandered. That’s sad.

Finally, improving humanity is not easy. See Allen‘s prior article, “A More Holistic Approach to Improving the Human Condition.” And I also know there are banner-less Americans who quietly toiling away at this in foreign countries.

  1. April 20th, 2011 at 01:39 | #1

    Well said!

  2. April 20th, 2011 at 06:15 | #2

    I consider the “human rights” issue to be a moralistic and “disproportional” issue.

    By disproportional, I also mean inappropriate to those it is often addressed to.

    Zakaria’s own attitude toward China’s citing of US prison population issue is exemplary. The typical American just don’t care that more than 1% of US population is in prison. Hence, it is not an appropriate/proportional issue for Americans (apparently).

    China’s point is precisely that, why bring up issues that we don’t care about? If you do so, we will also bring up issues that you don’t care about.

    And it is blatant interference in other nations’ sovereignty, to pretend that what you care about should also be important to others, because in the end, political issues of rights depends on the priority of sovereign government of each nation, not upon some “universal standard” of priorities.

    Because if we do go to the “universal standard” (or what according to every activist), then EVERY right is important, and then US gets an F for its prison system.

  3. jxie
    April 20th, 2011 at 08:16 | #3

    The annual ritual of writing the “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” and submitting to the US Congress has 50 years of history. It is mandated by the Foreign Assistance Act, enacted during the JFK presidency.

    When the Foreign Assistance Act first became the law, the US ran a large trade surplus (almost continuously from 1900 to 1970), and its manufacturing production was comparable to those of the rest of now G-7 nations plus the current BRICS nations, minus Russia (Soviet Union then). The point was that if a nation failed or performed poorly by the US’ standard in Human Rights, the US will withhold foreign assistances on the nation.

    Much like all other traditions, eventually it becomes a ritual that is more comical than meaningful. The US is by far the largest debtor nation now, and its manufacturing production is already smaller than China’s. Honestly I think China is too uptight to even write a formal rebuttal report — China should just leave comedians to find their punch lines.

  4. Charles Liu
    April 20th, 2011 at 11:17 | #4

    kinda with jxie here, it’s “pot-meet-kettle” vs. “kettle-meet-pot”.

  5. April 20th, 2011 at 14:06 | #5


    Agreed and thus, the report is a political tool and no more.


    Thx for the backgrounder.

    After reading China’s report, I imagine it took them 1 person 3 months time to do the research and then write the report.

    In contrast, the U.S. report when printed will require 7000 pages. That requires an army.

    I think China’s rebuttal is important in a number of ways:

    1. This is a PR battle, and the U.S. report gives ammunition to the various NED etc funded projects in the likes of Liu Xiaobo to work against the Chinese government.

    China’s report has a fizzling effect.

    2. The U.S. report is an occassion offering a perfect opportunity to air China’s views on what else are important in terms of human rights, and thus China’s rebuttal is a chance at building solidarity around the world on what else matters.

    As long as China makes her foreign policy consistent and aligned with the broader definition of human rights the world agrees with, then China enjoys smoother working relations with the world.

    3. In extension to #2 – remember, in the U.N., “human rights” voting have always gone the way of China and almost never the way of the U.S.. It takes effort in China’s part (or other targetted nations part) to thwart “human rights” motivated political moves.

  6. SilentChinese
    April 21st, 2011 at 07:20 | #6

    Its good to have open and frank discussions on these issues,
    it is good for US and China.

    But the way US government and how the issue is discussed in the prevailing wind of public discourse in US is counter productive and will not bring about any meaningful “Change” in china nor it will benefit United States.

    It has merely became a tools for the foreign policy community and special interest groups.

    This is the real tragedy.

  7. Wukailong
    April 21st, 2011 at 08:28 | #7

    @SilentChinese: It’s become a sort of game played out, year after year. Personally I think it’s overblown, though – it hardly has any effect on any of the two countries. It keeps a number of people busy.

  8. Charles Liu
    April 21st, 2011 at 10:32 | #8

    It’s also about control, the Iraq sort of “winning hearts and minds” in the public opinion realm, reinforcing US government’s official narrative.

  9. jxie
    April 22nd, 2011 at 08:47 | #9

    The late George Carlin had a great comedic skit poking fun at the socially conservative crowd. The anti-abortion “pro-life” type cares very much about the babies from conception to birth, yet after birth, you are on your own. To them, the human life seemingly stops at the point of the birth. Policies improving the human life as a whole, can be abomination to them.

    The same can be said about the current human rights discussion. Human rights, if defined properly, are a subset of the human conditions. If you only carve out some human rights that interest you, China seemingly is doing poorly, An “F” may not be unjustified. Yet if you look improving the human conditions, no nation on Earth has done nearly as fine a job as China has done in the past 30 years.

  10. April 29th, 2011 at 08:20 | #10

    I consider the “human rights” issue to be a moralistic and “disproportional” issue.

    By disproportional, I also mean inappropriate to those it is often addressed to.

  11. April 29th, 2011 at 12:24 | #11

    jxie #9,

    That is an “A” – maybe “A+” – comment in my books! 🙂

  12. xian
    April 30th, 2011 at 12:07 | #12

    Agreed, but I want to add a few comments on China’s response.

    IMO it should be either full on tit-for-tat, or just ignore the issue completely. The US publishes human rights complaints about all the countries it deems necessary, China only does it for the US as a gesture of vengeance, which it is. However, this makes it appear that the US is coming out with a regular report, whereas China is specifically targeting someone for political reasons. I think China should just flat out ignore the whole thing. Few people will ever read the US reports, or even know about them. Getting involved in these moral battles only results in endless entanglement and presents too many opportunities in the future for others to call hypocrisy on the nations involved.

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