Thursday, May 12, 2005

America's Human Rights Record

A recent piece in the Economist highlights the change in course on human rights the US has taken since September 11. According to Harold Hongju Koh, our emphasis has shifted from advocacy of a broad range of freedoms, to overwhelming focus on 'freedom from fear.' A summary quote:

Witness five faces of a human-rights policy fixated on freedom from fear. First, closed government and invasions of privacy. Second, scapegoating immigrants and refugees. Third, creating extra-legal zones, most prominently at the naval base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. Fourth, creating extra-legal persons, particularly the detainees of American citizenship labelled “enemy combatants”. Fifth, a reduced American human-rights presence through the rest of the globe.

Do check out his article for details on each of these trends.

It's hard to say which is worse: the actual liberties trampled by these policies, or the double standards we convey and the consequent loss of moral authority to be a voice for civil liberties worldwide. Koh cites numerous instances where authoritarian governments have used the term 'anti-terrorism' as cover for political crackdowns.

Yet these measures are products of the GOP, the party which holds individual liberty so dear in the face of government encroachment when it comes to issues like federal regulation and control of economic activities. I think this apparent paradox is residue from the cold war, when government regulation smelt like encroaching socialism. I hope that the Republicans' general concern for individual liberty which is primarily found today in economic ideas like an ownership society and tax cuts becomes reinforced in the realm of civil liberties and law enforcement as the emergency mindset of Sept 11 fades into the past.

In the meantime, let's remember that more people have been killed and oppressed by conventional governments in the last century than by any subversive terrorist group before we continue buying temporary safety and spending our liberties.


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