[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

"Snubbing Human Rights" NYTimes art

Subject: "Snubbing Human Rights" NYTimes article reprinted in Japan

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"

Asahi Evening New
May 3rd, 1996

(from the New York Times)

By Barbara Crossette 


Not so long ago, when the cold war was coldest, countries knew
where they stood on the issue of human rights. With a few
exceptions like the world's condemnation of apartheid the rule was
that the bad guys on the American side weren't really so bad, but
the bad guys on the Soviet side were horrible. 

When Communism collapsed, everything seemed possible, even
in the United Nations, where votes on issues like human rights
could in the past be tallied before they were cast. Activists arose in
many countries who had never before enjoyed an Independent
voice. The world held a human rights conference in Vienna in
1993 and dared to enshrine universal concepts.  A United Nations
High Commissioner for Human Rights was named for the first
Hold the balloons and whistles. 

Last week in Geneva at the annual meeting of the United Nations
Human Rights Commission, the world got a warning that the trend
toward open, nonpolitical discussion of rights might be temporary.
China successfully led the charge against scrutiny of itself by
rallying support from developing nations with the cry: You could be
next! Panicked nations of the third world now calling themselves
the "global South," began work on reforms that human rights
organizations and diplomats saw as a direct assault on the
institutions and procedures surrounding the 53 - nation Human
Rights Commission and the United Nations Center for Human
Rights here.

The Global South

The nations of the global South, many with spotty records on
rights, are a majority, at both the United Nations and in the world.
United, they are formidable. Today they are demanding
consensus on human rights issues, effectively giving any nation a
veto. A resolution that would have applied this practice to the
commission was withdrawn last week only when some of these
countries calculated how it might be used against them. It will
likely return. 

"If we analyze the vote on China this week," said Peter van
Wulfften Palthe, a Dutch diplomat who is leader of the
Netherlands delegation to the commission and one of Europe's
most knowledgeable human rights experts, "I think that the most
important conclusion is that whether we win or lose depends very
much on that year's composition of the commission." This year,
China relied on a solid block of African and Asian votes (plus
Belarus and Ukraine) to keep it off the commission's agenda. 
Geraldine A. Ferraro, who leads the United States delegation to
the commission, said that the Chinese, whose efforts failed last
year, worked harder on the North - South divide this year by
arguing that the richer countries "don't understand our cultures"
and always pick on the poorer countries. 

The examples of Aung San Suu Kyi almost single - handedly
sustaining Burmese hopes for democracy or the Buddhist monks
in Vietnam and Tibet bravely campaigning for cultural and
religious freedoms give the lie to the cultural argument. As for
development, Ms. Ferraro said, "How do we define Singapore or
Peru? How do we define developing?" 

John Shattuck, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy,
Human Rights and Labor, sees Latin America drifting away from a
third - world consensus that human rights scrutiny is an intrusion
into national sovereignty. What many countries really fear, he said
in an interview here, is "the inexorable pressure that grass roots
movements for human rights and democracy are creating." This
can drive them into cynical alliances of convenience. 

Some Paradoxes

While almost every country champions human rights, many vary
over what those rights consist of, and influences range from the
political to the cultural. 

Foremost among Asian paradoxes, India identifies itself as the
world's largest democacy but votes regularly with the most
undemocratic regimes on human rights issues.  Arundhati Ghose,
India's envoy to the U.N. in Geneva, said her country objected to
the "finger pointing" method by which poor nations are humiliated.

Ms. Ghose met resistance on child pornography and sec tourism
when she asked Germany, Japan, Korea, and the Netherlands to
join in calling for a ban.  "They were willing to say, "O.K., we can
ban child pornography, but we are not willing to ban promotion of
sex tours.'", she said.  Members of the Human Rights
Commission had been shown German ads offering "boys of any
color, size or age."

"If we can agree that it's nobody's fault, but it's a bad thing, then
we can tackle it together," she said. "The moment you start
apportioning blame, people go on the defensive."

Yet he world has accomplished much in the five years since the
Soviet Union died, Mr. Shattuck said.  "What continues to be a
highly divisive process," he said, "is this debate over human rights
that takes place annually at the Rights Commission, where China,
I think, has now taken very much the same position that the
former Soviet Union did -- to do everything you possibly can do to
prevent international scrutiny of its human rights record."