Written by: Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai April 2, 2023
“As a President, I pledge to work impartially and inclusively to uphold, protect and promote all human rights.” Ambassador Václav Bálek, President, Human Rights Council
The 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) which began on February 27, 2023 and will end on April 4, 2023 has discussed the various thematic topics like, ‘The protection of human rights defenders;’ ‘Freedom of religion or belief;’ ‘Protection and promotion of human rights while countering terrorism;’ ‘Exercising of the right of peoples to self-determination’;’ ‘Interactive dialogue on arbitrary detention;’ ‘Discussion on the issue of unilateral coercive measures and human rights;’ among others.
I would like to expound on effective functioning of human rights mechanisms of HRC that will make a difference in the life of every human being. We know that success is measured not only by objectives, but also by whether an alternate strategy would have been an improvement. Thus, as Churchill said of democracy, it is the worst form of government except for all others that have been conceived or attempted. Similarly, it might be said of the HRC that it is the worst human rights body for defending human rights and human dignity, but for all the alternatives that have been attempted or contemplated.
It might be said that never have so many human rights been proclaimed yet been so routinely violated. Think of the ongoing human rights atrocities at present that are going unsanctioned. An independent international fact-finding mission of the United Nations claimed that the Myanmar government had “genocidal intent” against the Rohingya. And Genocide Watch testified before the United States Congress that Kashmir was at the brink of genocide. This grim recitation must cease as a concession to the shortness of life, but the point should be self-evident. Human rights enforcement mechanisms are falling short of hoped for deterrent effects and condign punishment of offenders.
It is said by some that the NATO military intervention in Ukraine to defend the human rights of Ukrainians marked a watershed in the protection of human rights. No longer would the world tolerate a nation’s subjugation of its neighbors. But that sanguine observation, in my opinion, is vastly overstated. I believe that NATO intervention in Ukraine would not have been forthcoming if first, the Ukrainians were not Europeans (These people are Europeans, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, March 1, 2022); and second, refugee problem had not spilled over into the countries of the European Union. That conclusion is supported by the indifference of NATO, the United States, and the United Nations to massive human rights violations elsewhere in the world that do not seriously impact western democracies. Kashmir is the prime example of that insensitivity and negligence.
The good news is that the globalization of news as well as social media have brought human rights violations into the living rooms of more and more people, and most are horrified by the pictures. Only a handful of the inveterately cruel celebrate over human rights violations. There would have been no support for the intervention in Ukraine by American and European public without television, and ditto for United Nations’ intervention in early conflicts, like East Timor, Southern Sudan and else. That is why India fiercely resists broadcast transparency in Kashmir. New York based ‘Committee to Protect Journalists’ said that the news media in Kashmir has been pushed to the brink of extinction. Therefore, I believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant for human rights violations.
Human rights reports also bring human rights to the forefront of attention. The United Nations Thematic Special Rapporteurs, United States, Department, of State Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other international NGO’s deserve special acclaim on that score, despite occasional deficiencies.
Torture, disappearances, and summary executions, in my judgement, deserve special abhorrence and deterrents. They should all be made international crimes with no immunity for any government official implicated in the villainies, even heads of state or government. CNN reported on May 16, 2014, that ‘in 2005, the United States denied Modi a visa because of his alleged role in anti-Muslim violence three years earlier in Gujarat state, where he was chief minister.’ When United States Federal Judge Analisa Torres asked American Justice Center on October 22, 2014, to respond to the question of immunity for Narendra Modi, the State Department requested that the case be “dismissed on the basis of his immunity from jurisdiction as a sitting foreign head of government.”. We believe that any head of state should also be criminally accountable for failing to exercise reasonable care in superintending subordinates who may be guilty of wrongdoing. There is no good reason for holding civilian officials to a lesser standard when the evils and moral responsibility are the same.
Whatever possible problems might be created by withdrawing customary head of state immunity for torture or summary executions, they would be vastly overshadowed by the countless lives and suffering deterred and the vindication of compelling claims of morality. We should applaud this civil and political rights development as a bright star in the human rights sky.
It might be said that these proposals are too strict or even draconian. But what about the victims of these unspeakable crimes? From their vantage point, the sanctions are commensurate with the nature of the misconduct, and that view seems unanswerable. Who can defend torture, disappearances, or summary executions in this day and age? The genuine test of how much we care about such abuses is what we do about them, not just what we say about them. And the HRC seems an ideal place to begin with a serious plan of action.
India’s international lawlessness has escaped United Nations and HRC’s sanctions or even moral reproach for more than 76 years and 17 years respectively. Its human rights record is gruesome but hidden behind an iron curtain that keeps out the likes of CNN and BBC; but the commonplace Indian military atrocities extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, plunder, abduction, and arbitrary detentions without trial, are at least on a par with Slobodan Milosevic’s savagery towards Kosovar Albanians, which provoked the intervention of NATO alliance.
Finally, I would respectfully suggest that the HRC consider establishing an advisory committee of experts, besides Thematic Special Rapporteurs to recommend stiffer civil enforcement mechanisms for incorporation into outstanding international human rights covenants. A right without a legal remedy is no more valuable than a munificent bequest in a pauper’s will.
Dr. Fai can be reached at: WhatsApp: 1-202-607-6435 / firstname.lastname@example.org
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