Saturday's UNA meeting in Berkeley brought up a lot of debate and discussion over the issue of human rights here in the United States and around the world. Many issues were brought up--including the use of child soldiers in Africa and the growing number of executions carried out by China and Iran. But the meeting also touched on the issue of human rights here in the United States regarding detainees captured in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. One of the guest speakers featured at the event was an American ACLU attorney who talked about the apparent use of torture, including water boarding, and how it hurts the image of the United States abroad. His message was that if the U.S. violates international law, then other countries could follow suit as well. At the end of the event, I had the opportunity to voice my opinion.
United World Analysis:
While I am largely opposed the idea of the U.S. government using torture or harsh methods of interrogation, I am just as opposed to the usual "blame America first" rhetoric. Since 9/11, the world has faced a stateless enemy that works to achieve its goals by killing innocent people--civilians, westerners, and Muslims alike. Last month, the UN headquarters was targeted by Al-Qaeda in the Algerian capital, Algiers, so its pretty clear that these people are perfectly willing to attack anyone--whether it be the UN, the US, or Muslims who fail to submit to their extreme ideology. If the world can put aside current political disputes, then its very likely we can all move forward together in the fight against global terrorism. Exploiting the mistakes of the USA among the international community is counter-productive, and there's little doubt that terrorists enjoy seeing the US and the members of the UN tear themselves apart from the inside out.
Nevertheless, the other superpowers in the world have an obligation to uphold their commitments to the Declaration of Human Rights. Look at what is happening in Russia right now, where political opponents have been systemically assassinated and democracy has fallen into its death throws.
This is only the most recent example:
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was barred on Sunday from running for president in a March election, a move he said was taken to block any real challenge to Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin's chosen candidate.
The Election Commission's decision seemed certain to stir fresh criticism by Kremlin opponents that the March 2 vote has been slanted in favor of Dmitry Medvedev, 42, the first deputy prime minister who Putin has backed to be his successor.
Kasyanov, who had little chance of winning the election, said Russia under Putin was now on "the slippery slope towards thievish totalitarianism" and urged a boycott of the vote.
Is it really fair to single out the United States while Vladimir Putin and his KGB buddies continue their stranglehold on Russia? I recently read a book entitled Blowing Up Russia by Alexander Litvenenko, a harsh critic of the current regime in Russia. Unfortunately, Mr. Litvenenko was killed in London before the book was released at the beginning of 2007. Other prominent critics have met a similar fate as well.
The Chinese aren't much better either, with their continued support for the blood-soaked regime of General Omar Al-Bashir in Sudan. Over the last few years, the Chinese have routinely blocked the UN security council from imposing sanctions on Sudan because of their growing economic investment in the country. It may be fitting to entitle the 2008 Beijing Olympics "The Genocide Olympics". I think its safe to say that China's support for a government that has allowed for the unrelenting slaughter in Darfur to continue is one of the worst human rights abuses in recent years. In addition, Russia and China continue to protect Iran from UN action as well.
So in the end, while it can be said that the United States has set a bad example for the international community through its sometimes controversial treatment of detainees, the other countries who wield tremendous influence in the UN need to be held accountable as well. There is no excuse for the UN to scold the USA while Vladimir Putin tracks down and kills his political opponents in Russia and China continues to support the world's most brutal dictator. The key is for everyone to work together for a more affective United Nations, which was the point I made when I had my opportunity to speak at the end of the event.