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June 2001

 

Human Rights

By Edward W. Miller

"O wad some power the giftie gie us/To see ourselves as others see us./It wad frae monie a blunder free us,/An foolish notion." - Robert Burns 1759-1796

On Friday, May 4, the United States in a secret ballot was voted off the UN Human Rights Commission for the first time since it helped found the body in 1947. Eleanor Roosevelt was the first US delegate to the Commission and the main author of its famous Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the recent voting, the US came in fourth with 23 votes in competition for three seats allocated to western nations that were up for re-election. France received 52 votes, Austria 41, and Sweden 32. Those voting were members of the Economic and Social Council, parent group for the 53-member Human Rights Commission. Also elected were Bahrain, South Korea, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo and Uganda.

Reactions in this country were mixed. Our acting UN Ambassador, James Cunningham, said: "It was an election, understandably, where we were very disappointed." Cunningham, according to the Assoc. Press report from the UN" refused to speculate on whether the US ouster... was the result of growing anger against the US for taking too many unilateral positions on issues such as a national missile defense shield, and pulling out of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty to curb global warming." Reporter Evelyn Leopold (Reuters May 4) noted that in response, some members of Congress denounced the UN itself, while Democrats blamed the Bush Administration for ignoring the world body, delaying the payments due, and isolating itself on some key rights issues.

Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) said the vote was an embarrassment for the US and a "painful blow to US leadership." She added, "President Bush has dragged his feet in getting key officials confirmed. It is unacceptable that we still have no UN Ambassador." Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) and House International Relations Committee chair, said the vote was "emblematic of the increasing irrelevancy of some international organizations." On May 11, the NY Times reported Hyde as singling out the Europeans for their "inexplicable and inexcusable decision," not to ensure that the United States kept its seat.

Joanna Weschler, UN representative for the NGO (Non-governmental) Human Rights Watch, noted both western and many developing countries bore grudges against the United States for its failure to support: "important human rights initiatives. These include a measure calling for AIDS drugs to be made available to all, the treaty to ban land mines and the International Criminal Court."

Justin Brown, reporting to the Christian Science Monitor (May 5) noted that, "The Human Rights seat, held by the US for more than 50 years, was a valuable bully pulpit. The US used it to criticize some of its favorite targets, including China and Cuba."

On that same May 4, the United States also lost its seat on the UN's International Narcotics Control Board. Our Representative on the board, Herbert Okun was being supported by the US for a third re-election. In response to the lost seat, former drug policy director Barry McCaffrey said Okun's absence from the Board "would be felt more by other countries than the United States." Richard Boucher, spokesman for our State Department, told reporters the US would continue "strong support" for the UN anti-drug programs. (Assoc. Press)

In Washington, the House, intent on punishing the UN, on May 11 voted 252/165 to allow the UN one payment on its debt of $582 million, withholding some $244 million in back dues until the US is reinstated on the UN Commission for Human Rights. (Assoc. Press) House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) said, "There's an injustice that ought to be addressed... The Commission still counts as members Sudan, China, and Libya... some of the greatest perpetrators of human rights abuses in the world."

The presence of Sudan, Africa's largest country, on the Commission obviously sticks in Hastert's craw, since the US team of Albright and Richard Holbrooke back in October had lobbied fiercely against Sudan's bid for Africa's seat on the Security Council. As a result of US pressure, the tiny Island of Mauritius was given the seat. African nations for the most part backed Sudan.

There is growing irritation amongst many nations because the United States, while giving lip service to "human rights," lists its "terrorist countries" largely on the basis of whether the leaders of these countries willingly roll over for Washington. Leaders who support issues not approved by Washington tend to find themselves ignored, embargoed or even threatened.

There is also increasing international resentment each time the US employs its veto power in the Security Council to protect Israel from those Resolutions (presently over 60) which condemn her for human rights abuses of the Palestinians. Our European allies and all the Muslim nations also protest our genocidal embargo of Iraq, which to date has killed almost 1.75 million of Saddam's people, mostly children and the aged. France publicly criticized the US-Brit, Iraqi "overflights," by withdrawing her air force from these "illegal" missions.

In our hemisphere, the OAS (Organization of American States) has voted unanimously many times against the US embargo of Cuba, an embargo which, outlasting nine US presidents, services only to further reduce the living standard of an already poor people. More recently, our "Drug War" in Columbia, for which a compliant Congress has already voted $1.3 billion, is criticized by Columbia's neighbors who are already experiencing the extension of cocoa-farming into their territories. Countries of the European Union, many of which trade with South America, warned us against "Plan Columbia."

Most Columbians want the US out of their country. Just days ago, as Columbia's President Andres Pastrana, flanked by Cabinet ministers and military commanders, was trying to sell "Plan Columbia" to some 3000 peasants gathered in Villa Garzon, his words were drowned out by shouts of "Pastrana, Pastrana, don't deceive the people," followed by chants of "Liar, Liar, Liar." Columbians interviewed said, "The US thinks they're the boss here." Signs carried by protesters read, "We don't want more weapons or helicopters... but more classrooms and books." (Andrew Selsky, Assoc. Press)

As leader of NATO, the US is being condemned not only for its crippling embargo and illegal bombing of Yugoslavia, which has destroyed its infrastructure and pauperized its people, but for setting up a pseudo "International Tribunal for Yugoslavia" to demonize Yugoslavia's duly-elected president in an attempt to place the blame for this NATO-induced Balkan tragedy on Milosevic's shoulders. This ridiculous pageant of blame plays out in our media as Chief Justice Del Ponte publicly demands Milosevic be dragged into her illegal Hague Tribunal. One can imagine the response were our Chief Justice Renquist to appear on the Lehrer News Hour and demand that some criminal he targets be dragged into his Supreme Court.

Recently, Yugoslav's new president, Kostunica, pleading in Washington for funds to help reconstruct his NATO-damaged country, was told that all loans would be on hold 'til Milosevic was delivered to NATO's Tribunal, despite Kostunica's protest that Belgrade has no extradition treaty with the Netherlands. Pillaged by NATO, Yugoslavia will be sucked dry by the Draculas of the IMF and World Bank, which are forcing the Yugoslav people to pay these foreign creditors for the very damage the creditor's countries imposed on the Yugoslavs.

Toronto's Economics Professor Chossudovsky points out (www.tenc.net, May 8) that forcing nations it has destroyed pay for their destruction is an old Washington habit. After savagely bombing the Vietnamese and chemically destroying their environment, President Nixon at the Paris Peace Conference, promised $4.2 billion in aid to this country he helped ravage. The Vietnamese never received a cent, but years later President Clinton did send his Wall Street Secretary of the Treasury, James Rubin, to Hanoi to extract millions from the Vietnamese as a bribe to remove our economic embargo. The IMF followed up by making its $2 billion loan dependent on Hanoi's paying off the entire cost of the US-installed Saigon military government.

Nicaragua is another example of Uncle Sam's twisted generosity. After supporting Contra terrorism against the Sandanistas, the US military mined the country's Pacific and Atlantic harbors to further decimate their economy and force compliance with Washington. Nicaragua took her case to the real International Court of Justice in the Hague and won. The US was ordered to pay $12 billion in reparations. Nothing was ever paid.

International Lawyer Francis Boyle reports that Washington threatened Nicaragua's President Chamorra with removing all financial support unless the suit was dropped. The story does not end there, because Washington, after supervising the installation of Nicaragua's new "democratic government," approved a 50 million "emergency aid" loan conditional upon the payment of a US-imposed "debt" plus acceptance of the IMF's destructive economic package.

In view of Washington's long history of abusing other peoples for our perceived economic or political gain, should it be any surprise that the world is now beginning to respond?

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