[Column] US has no right to talk about human rights

Posted on : 2021-04-12 16:53 KST Modified on : 2021-04-12 16:53 KST
The US is not qualified to criticize other countries for their human rights violations
Kang Jeong-koo
Kang Jeong-koo

By Kang Jeong-koo, former professor of sociology at Dongguk University

The US published the latest edition of its annual report on the human rights practices of more than 200 countries around the world on March 30. The report called on North Korea to be held accountable for serious human rights violations and asserted that China had carried out massacres of its Uyghur minority population. The Biden administration has already openly advocated a strategic competition in surrounding and isolating China with a “values alliance” focused on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

While human rights are a universal norm that demands our respect, we mustn’t allow human rights to degenerate into a means of maintaining hegemony. Even so, people tend to accept at face value the claims of the US and other Western countries as if human rights were their sole preserve.

Human rights can be defined as the right to various conditions necessary to enjoy lives of human dignity.

In 1966, the UN General Assembly ratified two conventions about human rights: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The fatal flaw of these agreements is their neglect of the right to life.

Throughout history and around the world, life is the most precious thing for people of all ages and genders — there’s nothing on earth that could be traded for it. The crux of human rights is the right to life, which includes peace, freedom from war, health, freedom from infectious disease, livelihood, or poverty. But the right to livelihood is the only aspect of the right to life that appears in the ICESCR.

Based on this comprehensive understanding of human rights, let’s discuss whether the US is qualified to criticize other countries about their human rights record.

First, more than 95% of countries worldwide have ratified both the ICCPR and the ICESCR, but the US has only ratified the ICCPR. That means the US criteria for human rights fall far short of the international standard.

Second, the US withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2018 because of its criticism of Israel. The council’s fundamental mission is to criticize countries for their human rights violations. It’s hypocritical for a country that withdraws from the council on those grounds to turn around and take issue with any country’s human rights record.

Third, the US is the most belligerent country in history, the country has infringed upon peace (as an aspect of the right to life) more than any other. As former president Jimmy Carter said a few years ago, there have only been 16 years in its 242-year history when the US hasn’t been fighting a war. On top of that, the US is insensitive to the right to life, failing to impose gun regulations even though more than 40,000 of its citizens are killed in gun violence every year.

Fourth, the US has suffered 570,000 deaths from COVID-19 so far, demonstrating its abysmal record for health (as an aspect of the right to life). The US accounts for 27% of the world’s vaccine production but 0% of vaccine exports, while China accounts for 33% of the world’s vaccine production and 62% of vaccine exports. How dare the US attack other countries for their human rights record when it’s only concerned about its own interests?

Fifth, the gap in livelihood (an aspect of the right to life that appears in the ICESCR) in the US is so severe that there are 580,000 homeless people while the three wealthiest people own more wealth than the bottom 50%, as observed by Senator Bernie Sanders. But the US quibbles that this isn’t a human rights issue.

Sixth, the UNHRC unanimously condemned racism and police brutality in the US after a police officer killed George Floyd. African Americans are three times more likely than whites to contract COVID-19, two times more likely to die from it, and three times more likely to be killed by the police. The US is thus helpless to deal with the chronic issues of racial discrimination and hate crimes.

Seventh, the US is the most heavily surveilled society in the world. Information leaked by Edward Snowden shows that the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts 1.7 billion electronic communications every day around the world. How ridiculous for the US to talk about civil rights infringements and privacy violations in other countries!

Eighth, the Five Eyes (the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), which are largely WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant) countries, revived ethnonationalism through their construction of the ECHELON global intelligence monitoring and sharing program. The Biden administration is actively exploiting this in the US strategic competition against China. Thus the US is advocating a backward position of ethnonationalism in opposition to human rights, even as it nominally espouses human rights.

The points listed above show how pathetic and risible the US is when it poses as the champion of human rights while struggling to maintain its own hegemony. I urge the US to overcome its chronic problems and end its tawdry exploitation of the noble cause of human rights as a way to extend its hegemony.

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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