Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 15, 2007

House committee addresses possible double standards in global human rights promotion

In a hearing of the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight on Thursday, witnesses discussed the apparent contradictions in U.S. policies towards Iran, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. Witnesses included Dr. Amr Hamzawy and Dr. Martha Brill Olcott from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Thomas Lippman of the Middle East Institute; and Thomas Malinowski of Human Rights Watch.

The witnesses all agreed that a double standard exists, and has historically existed, with respect to the three countries. Malinowski emphasized the fact that there has always been a tension in U.S. foreign policy between the belief that promoting human rights is vital to advancing long term interests around the world, and the tendency to forget that belief when short-term interests get in the way. He added, “I don’t believe that the United States should treat every human rights violator in the world in exactly the same way. The strategies the U.S. government chooses to promote human rights should vary from country to country.”

Although the countries of focus were different for each witness, the attitude towards a consistent U.S. policy – in theory – and country-by-country implementation was unanimous. There is no reason why the United States can’t speak honestly, clearly, and publicly about human rights to every government in the world, whether it is friend or foe, the witnesses argued. They also said that not doing so is profoundly harmful to the overall protection of global human rights, as noted in a recent Amnesty International report. The witnesses said that the most effective strategy to promote liberty and human rights is when people around the world believe the U.S. is rising above narrow self interests to defend universal ideals.

According to Malinowski, the Bush administration’s strong public focus on human rights in Iran is entirely appropriate. However, while the American human rights message resonates with ordinary Iranians, he said it is undermined by extensive military exercises in the Persian Gulf and the threat of military force over the nuclear issue. Such threats unite the Iranian people with their leaders and undermine the attainment of human rights protection, Malinowski said.

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