Volume , Number 0
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Criminalizing the Charitable
Jenna e. Ziman
I Dreamed I Was In â€¦
Welfare Rights Activism
John potash and laurel Carpenter
Rural Prison as Colonial Master
New Party Report: Making Work â€¦
Human Rights Watch World Report â€¦
Haiti: The Roof Is Leaking
Word Tricks & Propaganda
Liggett Narcs Joe Camel
Cleaning up the Hamptons
Mobuto Was Chaos
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Human Rights Watch World Report 1997: Events Of 1996
In January 1997, the international human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, released its seventh annual report on the worldwide condition of human rights. The report, overall, finds human rights conditions bleak and deteriorating.
However, the organization, financed by individuals and foundations throughout the world, also finds reasons for hope.
According to the report, "...the major global powers wavered in their commitment to human rights. [They] repeatedly deferred the promotion of human rights in the name of often dubious long-term strategies. They allowed their quest for trade and investment opportunities to weaken their opposition to human rights abuse."
However, the report also says that, "[P]ressure to counter these disturbing trends built from various quarters. A wide variety of governments worked at the national level to hold abusive officials to account for serious human rights offenses and at the international level to overcome the reluctance of the major powers to establish a permanent International Criminal Court for the worst human rights offenders.
"The continued expansion of a global economy, by linking consumers and manufacturers across wide distances, spawned a growing interest in labor rights and human rights practices of multinational corporations. And while a burgeoning human rights movement faced repression in many countries, this was an unfortunate testament of its effectiveness in exerting pressure on governments to respect international human rights standards."
So, according to the report, the struggle for the future of humanity has become clear: it is the major multinational corporations that now run the global economy (and the major governmental powers that serve them) against nearly everyone else. The report is also clear and adamant in stating the collaboration of the major powers (primarily the U.S., the nations of the EU, the governments of the CIS, Japan, China, and the "tigers" of Asia) have surrendered their roles as representatives of peoples and have merely become agents of multinationals.
"Although few governments dared to jettison human rights explicitly, the major powers settled far too often in 1996 for the facade of a human rights policy rather than a genuine effort to promote human rights," says the report. Why?
"Fearing a loss of trade and investment opportunities in big emerging markets, or resource-rich economies, the industrialized powers continue regularly to choose profit over principle when asked to apply human rights standards universally."
In case after case, the report documents how governments of industrialized nations mouth fine words, and then act (or fail to act) in the face of massive and heinous human rights abuses. No major government is spared, least of all the government of the U.S. On Bosnia, it cites President Clinton for caving in and forcing a bogus "election" so that he could claim progress as an international expert in his own re-election campaign. In Haiti, the report says, the Clinton administration helped to cover up the close relationship between the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and various members of the murderous coup of 1991-94. It also scores the CIA for failing to declassify information on the notorious Battalion 3-16 in Honduras and on CIA involvement in Guatemala and elsewhere.
The report also describes how the U.S. administration talked about democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, but "it ignored electoral violations and fraud and remained silent about other human rights abuses to ensure that certain friendly governments remained in power."
In China, "Human rights [as evidenced by the Clinton administration] took a back seat to the commercial and strategic interests in the U.S. The administrations 1994 delinking of trade and human rights was thus taken a step further, and President Clinton abandoned any possibility of using U.S. political or economic leverage with Beijing to exert pressure on human rights."
Even in the U.S., the report assails Clinton for allowing and contributing to an attack on fundamental human rights that most citizensin the industrialized world at leasthave too often taken for granted.
"[P]olitically popular proposals made by Congress and the White House contributed to the accelerated erosion of basic due process and human rights protections in the United States. Despite his public proclamations of support of civil and human rights, President Bill Clinton displayed a startling lack of will to preserve rights under attack, and in some cases took the lead in eliminating human rights protections," the report says.
Though the report is correctly firm in coming down on the Clinton administration and U.S. human rights policy, it does so only because the U.S. is the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world and bears the heavy responsibility of those facts. There isnt a single nation or national leader in the industrialized world that does not receive harshand equally justifiedtreatment. The governments and leaders of Germany, the UK, France, Russia, China, Japan, Indonesia, and Central and South America are cited numerous times for acts of omission and crimes of commission, usually at the behest of the global economic agenda of free, unregulated markets and short-term profits.
The report does not spare despotic governments in the developing world or major international institutions, including various United Nations agencies, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. But this is not a "pox on all your houses" strategy. The overwhelming (and carefully documented) truth of the matter is that the idea of human rights is in a worldwide decline. The ultimate value, and horror, of this book is admitting to that truth.
Where is the hope then? In at least two places, according to the report. First, there are numerous individual instances of governments, individuals, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have stood up to the tsunami of the global economy and the mantra of putting profits before people.
In South Africa, it cites the efforts of the National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. In India, it finds improved behavior on the part of the government in addressing communal violence. In Guatemala, it reminds us of the peace treaty just signed between the government and guerrillas, ceasing a 35-year-long civil war initiated and funded by the U.S.
In South Korea, it notes that two former presidents were convicted on charges of mutiny, treason, and corruption. It bends over backwards to say that, in Indonesia, 20 soldiers convicted of human rights abuses were convicted of violating military procedures. It also notes a number of other individual cases, as well as successful NGO actions, and things like two East Timor activists receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
Equally importantpossibly even more importantin a section entitled "Labor Rights and the Global Economy"the report gives global economics a central place in the human rights equation and states that labor rights are, in fact, human rights.
Later on, in a section on corporations and human rights, the report also looks at the power imbalance that exists as corporations virtually ignore the interests of their workers and the communities in which they are located, always bowing at the altar of increasing profits.
Despite increasing international pressure from unions, NGOs, and community groups (and occasionally governments), corporations usually do what they want. "[W]ith billions of dollars worth of investment and profits at stake, most of the business community resist[s] pressure," the report says. But the good newsif it can be called thatis that in this report, the battle, as bad as it is going, is clearly reported. That is no small feat and Human Rights Watch should be congratulated for its work.
It has created a report that is generally well structured. After an introduction that summarizes the entire volume, five chapters give more detailed reports from various geographical regions in the world: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Helsinki (Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, and the CIS), and the Middle East. Seventy countries are included in these regions, and the geographical reports make up the bulk of the book.
The book also contains a number of additional sections that demonstrate that Human Rights Watch is continually expanding and refocusing its mission. One section is devoted solely to the United States, which claims to lead the world in the human rights struggle. Without vitriol, with plain facts, the U.S. is revealed as the worlds leading hypocrite.
The HRW Arms Project also receives special treatment. It shows how the members of the UN Security Council have a virtual monopoly on the worldwide arms trade and notes that the governments of the United States and Russia continue to lead the pack in the business of selling organized violence for profit.
HRW has started a Womens Rights Project and Childrens Rights Project, forcefully pushing for the notion that no human beings can be excluded from a human rights campaign. Other special initiatives cited in the report include: prisons, corporations and human rights, drugs and human rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, lesbian and gay rights, legal advocacy and standards, congressional casework, and even a summary of the HRW International Film Festival. Clearly, the organization is redefining its view of the words "human" and "rights."
There are some problems with this report and they are deep and fundamental. The problems are both of language and structure. The language tends toward bureaucrateze, almost what Orwell calls "newspeak." It is filled with abbreviations, summaries, and "on the one hand, on the other hand" types of arguments. This volume too often reads like a legal brief or academic dissertation.
The vast majority of space is given to official organizations, institutions and individuals, governments, corporations, NGOs, and famous individuals. Human passion and the human story are generally missing from these pages. There is not enough testimony from movements and individuals who are engaged in human rights struggles on a day-to-day basis. The word "abuse" must be shown, as well as told. So should the word "struggle."
[However, it should also be noted that the book lists all of the HRW reports from 1996. These are documents that do have direct testimony and do not shy away from the details and realities of torture, murder, and abuse.]
Another complex structural issue of the organization must also be confronted. Where does the money come from? Funding sources cannot be overlooked in any NGO; in the end, funding at least influencesand often determinesbehavior. HRW receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Both of these donors receive most of their income from global corporations that have been (and are) involved in significant human rights abuses.
Other major funders include: Phillips Van Heusen which is involved in sweatshop and anti-union activity in Central America; the Arthur Anderson Co., a multinational accounting firm that often does business for irresponsible corporations and governments that violate human rights; Reebok, which specializes in low-paid labor; Continental Grain Co., a multinational agribusiness that controls much of the world grain market; Body Shop, and others.
Also, many communications giants are HRW funders. These include the Washington Post (an anti-union firm that is friendly with the U.S. government); the New York Times (also an anti-union company currently trying to suppress the rights of freelance writers); Time Warner; Warner Bros.; Disney-owned Capitol Cities/ABC (which is currently in a bitter dispute with one of its unions); NBC (which is owned by arms giant General Electric); CBS; the Hearst Book Group; Random House; and American Express Publishing Co.
There are progressive funders too, including the Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett Fund, Mike Farrell and Shelly Faberes, Norman Lear and others. The question is: how do the donors affect the organization? It is unreal to pretend that they dont.
Human Rights Watch recently faced this question in quite concrete terms, according to a report in the April 7 issue of the Washington, DC-based Corporate Crime Reporter (CCR). According to CCR, Human Rights Watch released a report in March documenting how the Phillips Van Heusen corporation mistreats its workers in Guatemala. Bruce Klatsky is the Chief Executive Officer of PVH and also a board member of Human Rights Watch.
After reading a draft of the report, Klatsky personally flew to Guatemala to attend to the problem: PVH has been refusing to negotiate with its unions in Guatemala for six years and has been collaborating with the government there to break the labor organizations. Report in hand, Klatsky ordered his local company officials to end harassment of local union officials and to begin good-faith bargaining with the unions.
The HRW report and Klatskys action came after the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project threatened to picket the HRW annual fundraiser last fall at the New York Museum of Natural History.
U.S./GLEP project director Stephen Coats told CCR: "Human Rights Watch should be congratulated for its work. It is a difficult thing for any organization, let alone a human rights organization, to investigate allegations of abuses by a company whose CEO is on its board of directors."
Even the watchers need watching. They too are quite human.
Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017; 212-986-1980; http://www. hrw.org