And who will do the protecting?

Amnesty International sounds like Al Qaeda

Mukul Sharma, of Amnesty International, does the Amnesty International thing in the Hindu. Terror must be countered with justice he writes, which is all very fine. But Mr Sharma is also against special laws that can used to bring terrorists to justice. All he has to say is:

The only way people can be protected — from both governments and suicide bombers — is to treat every single human being as possessing fundamental rights that no government, group or individual may ever justifiably take away. Human rights are grounded in fundamental values that create ‘no go areas’ — acts that one human being must never do to another. [The Hindu]

And who can disagree with that? But Mr Sharma doesn’t say who it is that should do the protecting, the government or the suicide bombers? If indeed the government should do this, it must bring the terrorists to justice, for which it not only needs laws, but needs to carry out investigations today, not at an ideal time when law enforcement agencies are perfect.

But then, Mr Sharma comes out against forceful investigations because of “the actions of certain groups and individuals, entire communities are being viewed with suspicion…If whole communities are antagonised and alienated by the security forces using terror, aren’t those communities more likely to respond with supporting the use of violence?” That’s a series of specious arguments—it is not reasonable to contend that a government of a multi-religious state can investigate and fight terrorism born of Islamic radicalism without antagonising a proportion of the Muslim community. Defeating Khalistani terrorism involved antagonising many Sikhs. Fighting ULFA antagonises many Assamese. Fighting LTTE antagonises some Tamils. The question Mr Sharma must answer is whether the cause of human rights is served by setting aside the pursuit of justice just because it would cause this antagonism?

The second specious argument, and a more egregious one, is that it is somehow justifiable for “antagonised and alienated” communities to respond with violence. So just how different is Amnesty International from Al Qaeda, then? “If governments abandon the rule of law and use methods of terror,” Mr Sharma asks, “then won’t groups fighting governments feel justified in using methods of terror themselves?” That’s an explicit apology for terrorism and political violence, disguised though it is as a rhetorical question. Neither jihadi groups nor Naxalites really need external justification for their violence. Armed struggle is a core belief. So passing off terrorism as a “reaction” to some failing of the government is wrong, and even if were right, cannot be morally justified.

The case for human rights is built on a bedrock of morality, so it is not least paradoxical that an organisation claiming to defend those rights can throw up arguments based on vacuous morality.

Related posts: After terrorists, their apologists strike

After terrorists, their apologists strike

Can “human rights” activists be far behind?

We know the routine. ‘Concerned citizens’ write open letters and petitions on the pretext of condemning “cowardly acts of violence”. Once the obligatory boilerplate is dispensed with, they come to the point—that it is the state and its agencies that are really at fault. We’ve seen this in the case of Naxalites and as Yossarin points out, ‘concerned citizens’ have turned up to make a statement in the case of the Jaipur terrorist attacks too.

Let’s take the statement apart. Continue reading “After terrorists, their apologists strike”

And now, the Pope talks human rights at the UN

Intervention and sovereignty

Benedict XVI probably gets to address the United Nations by virtue of being the head of the Vatican state. Not because he is a Pope. But when he speaks of “the action of the international community and its institutions . . . should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty” he sure is voicing the opinion of the leader of an international religious institution. For the history of Europe for over a millennium has been one of a contest between an ‘international institution’ and the sovereign state. So you would expect him to say what he did.

But the Pope is wrong. Foreign intervention is always a violation of sovereignty. Now, under the UN charter and international law, it is legitimate to violate sovereignty if authorised by the Security Council. The question of interpretation does not arise with respect to the violation, but arises with respect to its legitimacy. The Pope is right to criticise the UN Security Council for its failure to intervene to protect human rights. But to seek to justify foreign intervention while arguing that sovereignty is not being violated is like arguing that an omelette can be made without breaking the egg.

The Pope would have a perfectly sound moral argument if he had said that violating sovereignty is acceptable if basic human rights are at stake. But then he would have sounded like the leader of an international religious institution and not a head of the Vatican state. But such an argument is not too practical. The international community that the Pope puts so much faith in (if you pardon the pun) can’t possibly be counted on to even define what those human rights are.

The rogue UN Human Rights Council has already made insulting religion a violation of human rights. If the Pope’s argument is stretched to the extreme—as it will probably be—it will never be an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty for the international community to intervene to protect people’s religious sensibilities from being hurt. That’s not a recipe for good things.

A rogue UN body

The UN Human Rights Council is out-of-control

If you thought that the UN Human Rights Council was a farce, think again. It is an out-of-control outfit that has come to become a handmaiden of states that are the worst abusers of human rights.

You have read about its upside down sense of priorities. You have seen how it has perverted even the definition of human rights. And you have seen how its special rapporteur stepped way out of line while ‘auditing’ India’s record.

Well, the latest outrage from the UNHRC is the appointment of Richard Falk as its special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories. The problem is that Professor Falk is far from level-headed: he is a person who sees little difference in the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

As David Aaronovitch writes

The implication of this logic is simple. The UN Human Rights Council doesn’t give a toss about the human rights of the Palestinians in the sense of wanting them upheld. Its majority is far more interested in using Israel as a stick to beat the US with, or – in the case of Islamic states – as a bogeyman to dampen down domestic discontent. [Times]

Reason’s Michael Moynihan calls Professor Falk a ‘rogue rapporteur’. The problem lies deeper. The UNHRC is a rogue organisation. Instead of politically correct pussyfooting, the appropriate response for countries that do take their constitutional commitments to human rights seriously is not to dignify it by their continued participation.

A good woman in bad company

Asma Jehangir’s mistakes…and why India should not suffer the insult of being audited by the UN Human Rights Council

Asma Jehangir, the brave human rights activist from Pakistan, is the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. She was in New Delhi recently to “study the situation with regard to freedom of religion or belief” in India. Now it would have been supremely ironic for a Pakistani to audit religious freedoms in India. But Ms Jehangir has distinguished herself by standing up to her country’s own dictators, and that makes her more than qualified for the job.

That’s not to say that the job itself should exist. As this blog has previously argued the UN’s human rights council is a farce. With countries like China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are among its members it has strayed from focusing on core rights like freedom, equality, free expression and protection against authoritarian states. In a world where genocide and brutal violence against citizens continues, the Human Rights Council deemed it necessary to focus on…religion. It ruled that defaming a religion is a violation of human rights. And one of the first countries it is auditing—and why Ms Jehangir was in New Delhi—is India. Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Sudan and Zimbabwe will only be audited in 2011.

Notwithstanding Ms Jehangir’s personal credentials, the composition, priorities and actions of the UN Human Rights Council do not make it a credible body to comment on the human rights situation in India. A self-respecting government of India would have refused to subject the nation to this absurdity. But it suits the UPA government’s communally jaundiced perspective just fine.

Coming to Ms Jehangir’s speech itself, she made a valid point that the wheels of justice grind way too slowly in India. But she was wrong to single out the communal riots cases for speedy justice. The need for speedy justice is universal: rioters, terrorists and ‘ordinary’ criminals must be brought to book swiftly if justice is to be served. There is a danger in calling for “prioritisation” (or worse, “turns”) without calling for an overall increase in capacity and efficiency of the justice system.

Ms Jehangir praised the UPA government’s constitution of the Rajinder Sachar and Ranganath Mishra Committees to address the condition of minorities. Here she is way out of line. First, because religion is not the only factor determining who is a minority, but more importantly because social inequalities are firmly beyond the scope of human rights. The danger of enveloping religious, social and economic issues into the ambit of human rights runs the risk of ill-serving both.

The UNHRC must do only what it was set up to do. This blog had opposed India’s joining this outfit. When India did join, this blog had recommended that India drive an uncompromising agenda on protection of human rights, or quit. The agenda has already been compromised. India should disengage.

Related Links: Wikipedia entry; Brett Shaefer outlines the UN’s human rights failure; So is it just “lipstick on a caterpillar”?

Pelosi should have stayed in Washington

The useless (to the Tibetans) charade of visiting the Dalai Lama

“If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out about Chinese repression in China and Tibet” Nancy Pelosi said, “we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world”.

She may not be exaggerating. But the issue is not about the freedom-loving people of the world, who are already speaking up against Chinese repression in Tibet. The issue is of ostensibly freedom-loving governments and political leaders of the world, who are not. It is all very well for the Speaker of the US House of Representatives to travel half-way around the world and stand beside the Dalai Lama at this time. It plays well to the world’s television cameras and to Ms Pelosi’s constituents back in America. But by way of meaningful support for the Tibetan struggle, it means little. On the contrary, it will allow China’s Communist party to project the Tibetan protests as part of an American conspiracy to shame China.

If she really wanted to support the Dalai Lama’s struggle, she needn’t even have made the trip to Dharamsala. Perhaps the US Congress could have adopted a stern resolution. Perhaps American congressmen could try and compel the Bush administration to be blunt in its criticism of China. And perhaps (yes, we’re stretching it), freedom-loving American legislators could compel the Bush administration to do something about it.

No, Ms Pelosi and US legislators are not doing that. Regardless of their sincerity, they are content to only put up another show of the dismal political theatre. At the Tibetans’ expense. Ms Pelosi could have spared us this act.

Naxalites and human rights activists

Even well-intentioned people can become pawns in the Naxalites’ insidious propaganda war

Sudeep Chakravarti’s Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite country is a very important book, for it offers an excellent account of the nature of the Naxalite threat. The Naxalite movement thrives on disillusionment and disaffection. It collects unaddressed grievances and unredressed complaints and channelises them into anger against the “Indian State”. It tells rape victims, dispossessed tribals and bullied villagers that the target of their ire is not the local landlord, policeman or politician but that abstraction called the “State”. Indeed, beyond seductive dogma and the logic of the inevitability of armed struggle to upturn the status quo, it offers no positive solutions. The fact both Communism and Socialism failed doesn’t matter to the Naxalite leadership, ideologues and sympathisers: people in remote, backward districts of India don’t know 20th century history.

Child soldiers
Photo: Alok Putul

If Naxalite leaders rally support for themselves through mobilising local disaffections into a movement against the State and its symbols, their ideologues and sympathisers play an important role in the broader strategic psychological warfare. By dissing India’s economic achievements, by spreading canards about the ‘failure of neoliberal reforms’, by an incessant, exclusive focus on the negative side (in the name of ‘dissent’), by playing up the myth of “the two Indias” and even championing violence, these opinion makers create a context that lulls the the average Indian citizen into thinking that there is something legitimate about the Naxalite movement. The left-leaning and left-wing commentariat has succeeded where the Islamists have failed. The average Indian believes that the Naxalites are not quite as serious a threat as the jihadis—although Naxalites hold sway over a broad swathe of territory. Little wonder then that Indian politicians feel no serious pressure to do anything about the Naxalite threat. [Related Post: The clash of convictions and the remaking of the world of war]

Even where there was significant public outcry, the UPA government decided that its perceived vote-banks were more important than national security: it is not half as serious about the jihadi threat as it should be. But where there was lesser public attention, it literally abdicated its responsibility. The presence of the incompetent Shivraj Patil at the home ministry didn’t help. So while the Naxalites consolidated into a nationwide movement years ago, the central government continues to claim that this is essentially a matter for the states, and it would only play a co-ordinating role.

In the absence of a coherent national anti-insurgency strategy states were left to their own devices. Y S R Reddy’s government in Andhra Pradesh, got into bed with the Naxalites in order to win the election. It was a mutually beneficial bargain: the Naxalites took a breather (after being pummelled by the previous government led by Chandrababu Naidu) and regrouped. It ended predictably, when the negotiations failed and the Naxalites went back to their armed struggle. Why predictably? Well, because “armed struggle” is an inseparable part of the Naxalite dogma: Prachanda, the leader of Nepal’s Maoists, is being criticised for relenting on this even after they formed the government.

If this was the situation in Andhra Pradesh, a state with relatively higher capacity, what of places like Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, where state capacity is extremely weak? Faced with fighting a war with what they had, they engaged in some extremely flawed strategies. As The Acorn argued two years ago, setting up Salwa Judum, an extra-constitutional counter-insurgency force, was a big mistake. So was the draconian law which suspends the freedom of the press. The Chattisgarh authorities identified the problems correctly. But the tools they used to solve these problems were ill-considered, hamfisted and ultimately counterproductive. Chattisgarh’s government and political leaders cannot escape responsibility for these bad moves—but in the absence of cohesion, determination and resources from New Delhi, it is not surprising that they chose that course. Understandable, but still not acceptable. But it’s no use criticising the Chattisgarh authorities for their dubious strategies. The anti-insurgency war against Naxalites is a national one. The Union Home Ministry should be held to account for its sins of omission that directly caused Chattisgarh’s sins of commission. The next government has a job cut out—and parties would do well to put their anti-Naxalite war strategy in their manifestos.

If Left-leaning commentators and Naxalite sympathisers are batting for the Naxalites, what should one make of genuine liberal human rights activists? It is possible to construct a reasonable argument, like a fellow INI blogger did, that violations of human rights by the government must be criticised every time they occur. The danger with this, though, is that well-meaning individuals and groups can inadvertantly end up batting for the Naxalites. The Naxalites derive greater benefit when reputed individuals and organisations criticise the government. In the psychological war, NGOs and human rights groups end up strengthening the Naxalites to the extent they add fuel to the fire of disillusionment and disaffection. Rights activists and do-gooders would do well to heed the old injunction primum non nocere—first, do no harm.

There are bound to be some who evaluate this trade-off and argue that holding the government’s feet to the fire is important in the even larger context of democratic accountability and good governance. Well, to be taken as bona fide, such individuals and organisations must unequivocally condemn Maoism and violent armed struggle. They must also unambiguously accept that only the state has the normative legitimacy to use violence. In other words, there is no room for moral equivalence: it is fair to criticise the government and government officials for their failings. But it is necessary to make the distinction between the State’s legitimate right to the use of violence and the Naxalite’s armed struggle.

Now there has been a controversy brewing for several months over the arrest of Dr Binayak Sen (see Offstumped’s coverage). The Supreme Court has turned down his bail application, yet sections of the media have been projecting him as an innocent being victimised by the state. Innocent or guilty, only the courts can tell (and he has unfettered access to them). But the media campaign itself is playing into the hands of the Naxalites (and is an example of the Chattisgarh authorities’ unsophisticated response to the psychological war).