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A human rights shoe on the other foot

The scholars who made these studies may have a different interpretation of their studies than the one made in this compilation which has been mainly to put all the adverse information at one place.

BHARAT DOGRA | New Delhi |


The world has been more used to reports on the human rights situation in various developing countries coming from developed countries, so many people were surprised to see a report on the human rights record of the USA released recently by China at an official level ( The Report on Human Rights Violations in the USA in 2022 – The State Council Information Office, The People’s Republic of China).

This report is mostly a compilation of information and statistics from a wide range of sources covering only the adverse aspects of US society and policy, with hardly any space for analysis of data or for any positive aspects. Most of the studies and sources cited are those from within the USA.

The scholars who made these studies may have a different interpretation of their studies than the one made in this compilation which has been mainly to put all the adverse information at one place.

One aspect that the Chinese study should have considered is that these critical reports and studies had been generated from within American society with the objective of some corrective actions being taken.

Those who made these studies were able to publish their results in relatively free conditions and have been able to continue their work over a long period of time. To give an example, the Brown University study on the USA’s War Against Terror of about two decades has been quoted in the Chinese study.

However it should also be appreciated that such a study could be conducted openly within the American system and the researchers could continue their work over a long period of time, with their work being widely quoted within and outside the country.

Such studies can be important calls for corrective action. A question for the Chinese government is – can equally critical studies of Chinese government policy and systems be made within China over a long period of time?

For example, while the US system has space for highly critical reports on the War on Terror to be prepared and widely circulated within the country, will the Chinese system allow for an equally critical report on the devastation caused to the people and culture of Tibet over a period of more than six decades, or will it allow for a free appraisal of the impact of the Chinese government’s support for many authoritarian regimes over the years, or will it allow adequate (or even inadequate) space for those who may like to campaign for a less aggressive, more persuasive pursuit of the One China policy in keeping with wider considerations of democracy and peace?

Coming to the USA, without doubt its human rights record has much to worry about, internally as well as externally, and enough evidence of this is available in the form of documentation done in careful ways within the country. While the corrective mechanisms within American democracy sometimes succeed in making good contributions for internal reform, these mechanisms do not appear to be very effective in correcting external human rights violations, as was seen in the course of the War on Terror.

At the same time, it cannot be denied that the USA remains a source of hope for several victims of human rights abuses carried out by authoritarian regimes in several parts of the world. This hope comes not just from US government agencies but even more from independent human rights organisations in the USA.

The American government has from time to time imposed certain costs on human rights violators which are likely to have been helpful for victims and potential victims of human rights abuses in several parts of the world.

However such policies are likely to be more useful if these are not influenced by narrow interests. In reality, the USA has often been selective in targeting countries hostile to it with excessive allegations of human rights violations, while going soft on the human rights record of friendly authoritarian regimes.

In fact, its attitude towards violations by the same country may change significantly depending on whether it is in a friendly or hostile phase of relationship. Human rights policies and regulations of the American government have not come in the way of sending massive aid to some of the worst dictators, military aid and weapons included.

On the other hand, the policy pursued by China and Russia of more or less ignoring human rights issues in the name of not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries is no less harmful.

A highly authoritarian regime like that of Myanmar today is facilitated in its crushing of democratic protest by the support that comes from China. Clearly both the USA and China need to look more critically at their internal human rights record as well as reform their external policies in the context of human rights.

(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children, Planet in Peril and A Day in 2071.)