Friday, April 15, 2005

Filthy US pot and grubby Cuban kettle

The annual US-driven condemnation of Cuba by the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) has just taken place, enabling America to justify its blockade of its Communist island neighbour. Cuba does commit human rights violations – but then, so does America. Some of America’s violations occur, ironically, on the island of Cuba, at Guantanamo Bay, while others take place in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in arrests and kidnappings of suspects around the globe, who are then “rendered” to countries where the CIA hopes that useful information will be extracted from them by torture. There have been no verified accounts of torture in Cuba since 1959.

This ridiculous and hypocritical charade in the UNHCR shows the extent to which politics corrupts the important process of making accurate and objective judgements about human rights abuses by governments. The UN needs to reform the procedure by taking it out of the hands of politically driven committees and entrusting it to a specialist agency which can collate, evaluate and index human rights abuses in every country in the world, not just a few countries chosen arbitrarily by America for purposes of political convenience.

The resulting Index of Human Rights, put forward annually as an official UN publication, would have the same effect that league tables have on hospitals and schools. They would be unpopular, and countries would complain that they had been unfairly assessed. In response to this, the UN could fix a time to come and inspect their prisons. Prior to the inspections, regimes would release prisoners in order to obtain a better score. In this way, the sheer existence of the Index of Human Rights Abuses would lead to a lessening of the burden of injustice and oppression throughout the world. There would be other beneficial effects, as people could check on the Index before booking their holidays, or choosing which of two similar countries to trade with and could choose not to deal with countries which were not scoring well.

When well established, the Index could be used as the basis for legal investigations of the worst performers, providing another motive for abusive regimes to clean up their act.

The UN is beginning of a process of self reform. Much of the reforms will be driven by its own bureaucrats and national representatives . No abusive Government is going to vote for an Index of Human Rights that will cramp its style. The impulse for the Index must come from civil society – from concerned, intelligent citizens, and from the Non Governmental Organisations like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and the World Development Movement. It will be a long campaign to establish the Index, but the journey of 10,000 miles must start with a single step – and America’s absurd machinations over Cuba are as good a place as any to start the process.

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