Exactly Who Is Trampling on Human Rights?

—An Analysis of the Global Human Rights Situation from a Moral Perspective

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-02-19 10:44
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Each year, the US Department of State produces Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in which it assesses and even condemns the state of human rights in almost all countries and regions of the world. Assuming the “moral high ground,” the US acts as if it is the world’s “human rights judge.”

But exactly who is trampling on human rights in the world at present? This is a question whose answer lies buried beneath a mass of distorted facts, silenced truths, and perverted moral justification.  

War: a large-scale violation of human rights

No violation of human rights can be more extreme or encompassing than war. War leads to one disaster after another, plunging people into an abyss of untold suffering.

As we are still unable to totally prohibit the occurrence of war, people tend to classify wars into two types: just wars and unjust wars. That being the case, how do we distinguish between a just war and an unjust one? The most universally accepted view in the global community at present is that wars of aggression are unjust, whereas wars of resistance are just. 

The American Revolutionary War was a just war. We say this because it was a war to overthrow British colonial rule and establish national independence. The war in the pacific during the Second World War, which saw the US mount a counter-attack after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was also a just war, because it was fought with the aim of defeating the fascist forces that had instigated war. After the turn of the millennium, the US launched the war in Afghanistan to combat the forces of terrorism. Many of the world’s countries and peoples sympathized with the war and expressed their understanding. This was because al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization behind the September 11 attacks, which inflicted major loss of life and property in the United States, was hiding in Afghanistan.

Despite this, however, the majority of US overseas military campaigns since the Second World War, and especially after the Cold War, have been aggressive in nature. These wars have taken place away from American soil, not resulting in the death of a single American civilian, but bringing intense suffering to the peoples of other countries. The US carried out a total of 124 large-scale wars and military interventions from 1945 to 1990, an average of 2.8 times per year, and over 40 overseas wars and military interventions from 1991 to 2003, an average of 4 times per year. 

During the Korean War (1950-53), the US used every weapon that it had except nuclear weapons, and even engaged in inhumane biological warfare. The US waged a twelve-year war in Vietnam from 1961 to 1973, which was condemned by the then French President Charles de Gaulle as “a dirty war.” Martin Luther King, the prominent civil rights activist, also declared in an open statement that the US should be sentenced for violating almost all international agreements that had been established to safeguard human dignity during times of war.

A large-scale anti-U.S. demonstration in Baghdad on April 9, 2007. Events such as the abuse of prisoners by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison and the wanton killing of Iraqi citizens by the US firm Blackwater have left the world in shock and the people of Iraq in great pain. / Xinhua

In 2003, the US launched a “preemptive” war against Iraq under the pretext that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. The war not only failed to receive UN approval, but also prompted the largest anti-war demonstrations since the Vietnam War, with almost ten million people in over 10 countries taking to the streets of more than 400 cities. But despite this, however, the US remained bent on launching a war of aggression against a sovereign state. After having occupied Iraq, the US military searched high and low but found no trace of weapons of mass destruction, while Iraq was torn apart by eight years of war. 

Over the past 60 years, the US has fought more overseas wars than any other country in the world. This is a country that is fighting wars in other countries almost every single day. It is hard to believe that a country so keen on indulging in the use of force and launching overseas wars sees itself as the world’s “human rights judge.”

The collateral damage of war: a violation of civilians’ right to life

The US government often takes overseas military action on the assumption that human rights override national sovereignty and under pretexts such as humanitarian intervention, overthrowing tyranny, promoting democracy, and fighting for freedom. It even comes up with rousing names for its military operations, such as just cause, upholding democracy, and restoring hope. But unfortunately, the US government plays down the significant number of civilian deaths that result from such wars, writing them off as “collateral damage,” and at most expressing “regret.” 

The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights, and it is this right that is trampled all over by the merciless machine of war. 

In 1999, NATO forces led by the US launched a 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia under the banner of averting a humanitarian disaster. Over the duration of the conflict, NATO aircrafts flew 32,000 combat missions and dropped a total of 21,000 tons of bombs, yielding explosive energy four times the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. The US even used internationally banned weapons such as cluster bombs and depleted uranium ammunition, and new weapons such as electromagnetic-pulse weapons and graphite bombs. These attacks left over 2,000 civilians dead, 6,000 people wounded, and nearly one million people homeless, in addition to depriving over two million people of their sources of income. They also had a devastating long-term impact on the environment in Yugoslavia and the surrounding region. This was the true humanitarian disaster.

How many civilians were killed in Iraq, and how many have been killed in Afghanistan? This is a matter that the US government has remained silent on. According to a 2009 report issued by Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights, there were a total of 85,694 civilian deaths due to war from January 2004 to October 2008. The London-based organization “Iraq Body Count” claims that 122,000 Iraqis were killed during the invasion of Iraq. In 2006, a survey published by renowned medical journal The Lancet estimated that the US-led invasion of Iraq had resulted in 655,000 civilian deaths. In 2007, a survey published by ORB, an independent polling agency located in Britain, estimated that 1.2 million people had died as a result of the conflict in Iraq. According to a report published by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, fighting in the Iraqi and Afghan wars had resulted in the deaths of 125,000 Iraqi civilians, 11,700 Afghan civilians, and 35,600 Pakistanis by the end of 2011. The report also claimed that the two wars had created 3.5 million Iraqi refugees, 3 million Afghan refugees, and 1 million Pakistani refugees. 

These numbers are unable to reflect the full extent of the devastation that war has caused in these countries. They do not account for the severe supply shortages, destroyed infrastructure, and the deterioration of living standards. They tell us nothing of the destroyed families, the wounded loved-ones, the widows, the orphans, and the deformed newborns, or of the tears, the pain, the sorrow, the loneliness, the horror, the desperation, the anger, or the hate. So who are more to blame for civilian deaths and humanitarian disasters: “tyrants” and “ethnic cleansing,” or the wars and acts of military intervention that were launched in the name of bringing them to an end?

Legal immunity: making a mockery of country-specific human rights

In the early hours of March 11, 2012, a US soldier stationed at a base in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province allegedly crept like a spectre into two villages in the middle of the night and began a crazed, one-man shooting spree in which he fired on the Afghan villagers in their sleep. The attack left 17 people dead, including nine children and three women. Were these killings the act of a single solider or multiple soldiers? Given how adept the Western media are at covering up the truth, it is likely that we will never know the answer to this question. The alleged shooter was sent back to the US to be court-martialed because the US enjoys the privilege of legal immunity in Afghanistan. Drawn-out judicial proceedings mean that it could be a significant period of time before the perpetrator has to face justice, and even then there is no guarantee that the trial he ultimately receives will be impartial. 

It is impossible to keep count of how many massacres like this have occurred. In a massacre that took place during the Vietnam War, hundreds of people in a Vietnamese village were killed by US troops. However, only one American soldier was convicted in connection with the massacre, and he was later released after three years of detention. Starting from January 2010, five US soldiers in the 5th Brigade of 2nd Infantry Division, who referred to themselves as the “Kill Team,” murdered at least three Afghan civilians and mutilated their corpses to destroy the evidence. Some people believe that the American take on legal immunity gives US soldiers a “license to kill.”

A somewhat ironic comparison can be made here. During the US invasion of Panama in 1989, US forces captured Panama’s President Manual Noriega, the legitimate president of the sovereign state, and brought him back to the US to stand trial, the reason being he had violated US law; yet, when US soldiers murder innocent civilians in foreign countries, they are protected by legal immunity, which means they are not subject to punishment under the law in those countries.

Legal immunity, which the Western powers would use as an excuse for violating human rights in their colonies during the age of colonialism, is still being employed by the US today. While it calls for the protection of human rights, the US is actually committing violations against the human rights of civilians in other countries under the cover of legal immunity. 

In no way will wars and killing ever improve the human rights situation in any one country. On the contrary, they will evoke nothing but a vicious cycle of hatred and violence. This has been proven by the frequent occurrence of suicide bombings and attacks, waves of violence, deteriorating law and order, and social unrest in some countries. 

It seems hard to believe that a nation who has launched more overseas wars and caused the deaths of more civilians than any other nation happens to be the very nation that finds fault in the human rights practices of other countries year after year. Yet this is the truth. Taking advantage of the Western monopoly over international public opinion, the US has used countless lies to establish itself on the “high ground” when it comes to human rights. However, this so-called “high ground” caves in once these lies are exposed, revealing the bodies of all the innocent people that lay beneath it, and exposing the truth about the human rights situation in the global sphere. It is about time that this perverted sense of moral justification was overturned.


(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.12, 2012)

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