Human Rights

2008 01 11
All monotheists are equal, and above others

Via Eszter Hargittai, this report of a court decision that atheists cannot be adoptive parents in New Jersey. It’s now being appealed. The reasoning of the decision as described in that article is transparently loopy. For one thing, it suggests that the state would need take away the biological children of atheist parents, as well. Also [bitter semi-coherent rant about other nutso consequences of this judge’s theory redacted].

One of my students brought a related amazing fact to my attention this past semester. In Maryland, the original state constitution forbade atheists from holding public office. The clause (and similar ones in other state constitutions) were rendered ineffectual by a US Supreme Court decision in 1961, but the text remains in the state’s constitution. Here’s an explanation with details – scroll down to “religious discrimination in state constitutions” and then to “why these clauses are no longer valid”.

This kind of shit fills me with burning fiery anger. I don’t have anything funny to say about, maybe youse guys can come up with something.
(Also, isn’t it odd that fiery is spelled that way, rather than “firey”?)

Howls of outrage (14)

2004 06 04
China: Stifling the Memory of Tiananmen

Posted by in: China, Human Rights

From Human Rights Watch:
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2004 06 01
Pre-Election Crackdown in Indonesia

From Human Rights Watch:
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2004 05 28
The Montagnards of Vietnam

Human Rights Watch reports that the Montagnards are having a rough time of it at the hands of Vietnames security forces . . . again.

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2004 05 25
Malaysia: Detainees Abused Under Security Law

From Human Rights Watch:
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2004 05 05
Sweden Implicated in Egypt�s Abuse of Suspected Militant

Well, that’s not a headline you see everyday, is it?

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2004 05 04
Technical difficulties

The State Department is experiencing technical difficulties which are in no way related to recent incidents:

Notice to the Press
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 4, 2004

Postponement of Release of Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2003-2004

The release of Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2003-2004 scheduled for May 5, 2004 has been postponed for technical reasons that have held up completion of the report. We will announce a new date for the release of the report once it reaches the final stage of printing.

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2004 04 24
Supporting HRW’s work in Sudan

Information on supporting Human Rights Watch’s work in Darfur, Sudan, is below the fold.
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2003 12 27

Some guy named Harry writes:

The worst human rights abuses in the world – including government engineered famines – are unfolding in North Korea today. Since the US isn’t involved, the Chomskyites aren’t interested. But the pro-intervention left – if we are serious about human rights – cannot take the same morally blank position.

And Matthew Yglesias responds in part thus:

The present government of Libya is a bad government. It was a bad actor in international affairs whose pursuit of WMDs was contrary to the American national interest. It is also repressive in its attitude toward its own people. Similar things could be said about Iraq. In the case of Iraq, hawks tended to dance to-and-fro between a focus on the national security threat (which turns out to have been, shall we say, overstated) and on the humanitarian issues in play. One way or another we invaded. This invasion is credited by many — myself included — with inspiring Gaddafi to offer to behave better in national security terms in order to avoid a similar fate. The Bush administration took this deal. That was a significant achievement, but note that it could only be achieved by deciding that we didn’t actually care about Libya’s treatment of its own people. If our opposition to Libya were truly motivated by humanitarian concerns, then we would continue to follow a strategy of regime change, Libya would make no deals, and our national security would be impaired in the short term.

Both thrust and parry seem to me poorly aimed.

The proper response to Harry is to say: a) The claim that the Chomskyites don’t care is just not true, and demonstrably so, so wipe that smug grin off your face; and b) It might well be true on a number of different issues that many people on the left care more about the evil that their own government supports than third party evil in which their own government plays no role. I’m not sure whether this is the right position, in the end. But the important thing to see is that it is a non-insane position. The evil your government does is evil in which you are implicated, it is evil you support indirectly through your taxes, and it is evil that you are in the best position to change. It is evil done in your name. Even if you think that third party evil is just as bad as the evil your own government is implicated in, or even if you think the third party evil is much worse, it is still non-insane, at the least, to respond differently to these different kinds of evil. And if you also think that moral hubris is dangerous, you have further reason to try to deflate the phony moral pretentions of those who act badly on your behalf. And if you think that the evil done in your name is underreported and badly neglected by your media, you have even more reason to focus on the sins of your own country. Like I say, non-insane, at the very least.

This strikes me as one plausible position to start with as you try to untangle some of the moral difficulties involved in U.S. foreign policy. Whether it’s true or not is another question. To sort through it would take a lot of careful thinking about the role that different views of agency play in moral appraisal, and a lot of other things I haven’t managed to work out yet. But it’s at least a starter.

Mathew Iglesias’ response seems uncharacteristically flat-footed. I think the hawkish position can escape contradiction (on this point) if its stated correctly. I’ve already tried to do that here, so I won’t repeat myself.

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2003 09 17

You would think that all the recent criticism of the U.S. decision in the 80s to back Saddam Hussein would lead to a bit of soul searching about regimes that the U.S. is currently supporting for strategic reasons. You would think.

Look, if we learned any lesson from all that, isn’t it that often we would have been better off from a strictly prudential point of view if we had just followed our consciences and refused to support evil dictators, however convenient it seemed at the time?

I think the situations in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, in particular, demand more attention from our press. These are countries that are slipping further every day into totalitarian nightmares of precisely the sort that breed instability and lawlessness in the long run. And yet they have the U.S.’s support, and the U.S.’s military aid, because they are considered important in the war on terror. I’m telling you, whatever they’re giving the U.S., it’s not worth the long term price.

Here is a nice piece from Eurasianet on the deteriorating situation in Uzbekistan which emphasizes the dilemma it poses for U.S. policymakers.

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2003 04 10
China’s take on the U.S.

Perhaps the most refreshing yearly exercise undertaken by the U.S. government (and some years, nearly the only refreshing exercise) is an annual Human Rights Report put out by the State Department. The State Department began publishing the reports during the Carter years, and no one since – not even Reagan, and not even the younger Bush, at least so far – has had the courage to pull the plug on it.

The report is subject to all kinds of political pressure, and so is predictably harder on America’s foes than its friends. (For examples, Human Rights Watch provides a helpful critique of the report each year, shortly after it’s been released). But reality – with a little help from strenuous lobbying by groups like Human Right Watch – imposes real constraints on how far the report can stray from the truth. In the end, the report comes close enough to the truth to enrage allies, and that’s part of what makes refreshing, even if it receives scant attention from the U.S. media.

Even less heed is paid to international criticism of the report by countries angered by such attention from a country they often consider flawed itself. And so this counter-report by the Chinese government was predicably overlooked. I’ve only had a chance to skim it, but it makes for some interesting reading.

China, of course, has a disgusting record of human rights violations, and is itself in an awkward position to be throwing around criticism on the same matter. But this kind of mutual scrutiny is healthy for all.

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2003 01 28
[Roth on the Iraq War]

Human Rights Watch, an organization I admire very much (though occasionally dissent from), has released an interesting paper by Kenneth Roth (their head honcho guy) on the Humanitarian argument in favour of the war in Iraq.

Despite a touch of lawyerprose, it’s a good, solid piece, and it deserves to be widely read.

The piece is all the more striking because HRW usually declines to take a position on jus ad bellum (the justice of the case for war) issues, preferring to focus on jus in bello (the justice of the actual fighting) stuff. They stuck to that during the Iraq war, declining to take a position on the justice or legality of the U.S. cause and instead focusing on violations of the laws of war during the fighting. But HRW has decided to weigh in publicly on the humanitarian justification for war, partly out of fear that the Bush administration is badly discrediting an argument which sometimes desperately needs to be made.

I agree with almost the entire piece. But agreement is boring. So here’s a passage I thought was a bit silly:

In noting that prosecution was not tried before war, we recognize that the U.N. Security Council had never availed itself of this option in more than a decade of attention to Iraq. The council’s April 1991 resolution on Iraq (resolution 688), in condemning “the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq,” broke new ground at the time as the first council resolution to treat such repression as a threat to international peace and security. But the council never followed up by deploying the obvious tool of prosecution to curtail that repression. Yet if the U.S. government had devoted anywhere near the attention to justice as it did to pressing for war, the chances are at least reasonable that the council would have been responsive.

Whatever. The corruption and cynicism of the French and the Russians and the Chinese appears to have escaped Roth. (Earlier in the piece, he praises French motives (!) in their 2002 humanitarian interventions in Africa. Ugh.)

Roth also has interesting things to say about the role of intentions in judging the humanitarian justification for war. Roth does not insist that intervening countries have pure motives. Still, he thinks that motive counts. I find this interesting because I spent many hours discussing questions about motives and the issue of hypocrisy in general with my students last year when I was teaching a class on the war. Roth’s argument for insisting that motive counts doesn’t depend on claims about their intrinsic value. Rather, he thinks that bad motives tend to have lousy consequences. In principle, I’m open to this line of attack. But I think Roth is wrong here:

To begin with, if invading forces had been determined to maximize the humanitarian impact of an intervention, they would have been better prepared to fill the security vacuum that predictably was created by the toppling of the Iraqi government. It was entirely foreseeable that Saddam Hussein’s downfall would lead to civil disorder. The 1991 uprisings in Iraq were marked by large-scale summary executions. The government’s Arabization policy raised the prospect of clashes between displaced Kurds seeking to reclaim their old homes and Arabs who had moved into them. Other sudden changes of regime, such as the Bosnian Serb withdrawal from the Sarajevo suburbs in 1996, have been marked by widespread violence, looting, and arson.

That just doesn’t seem right to me. The best explanation for what happened was sheer incompetence, since there’s no satisfactory hypothesis connecting motives plausibly ascribed to the admin with what actually happened.

Roth speaks with rare sanity about the significance of international approval for the war:

There is considerable value in receiving the endorsement of the U.N. Security Council or another major multilateral body before launching a humanitarian intervention. The need to convince others of the appropriateness of a proposed intervention is a good way to guard against pretextual or unjustified action. An international commitment to an intervention also increases the likelihood that adequate personnel and resources will be devoted to the intervention and its aftermath. And approval by the Security Council, in particular, ends the debate about the legality of an intervention.
However, in extreme situations, Human Rights Watch does not insist on Security Council approval. The council in its current state is simply too imperfect to make it the sole mechanism for legitimizing humanitarian intervention. Its permanent membership is a relic of the post-World War II era, and its veto system allows those members to block the rescue of people facing slaughter for the most parochial of reasons. In light of these faults, one’s patience with the council’s approval process would understandably diminish if large-scale slaughter were underway. However, because there was no such urgency in early 2003 for Iraq, the failure to win council approval, let alone the endorsement of any other multilateral body, weighs heavily in assessing the intervenors’ claim to humanitarianism.

I think that’s exactly right. The anti-war crowd got awfully worked up about the failure to get a SC resolution prior to the war, though that would likely not have satisfied many of them. It sometimes got so that the backing of the SC seemed to be the sole criterion on which many people would judge the justice of the war. Nuts, I say. There are unjust international laws, just as there are unjust domestic laws. In addition to what Roth points out, the real significance of the failure to get SC backing was this: That on top of everything else that was wrong with the war, it violated international law. Unfortunately, it was difficult to make that point without sounding as if international law were all important.

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