Friday, June 16, 2006


U.S. leads the way on human rights

The U.S. State Department issues a country-by-country report on human rights to the Congress each year. The report for 2005 was released in March, and here is a list of deficiencies found for one country—

  • beatings and other abuses
  • arbitrary arrest
  • incommunicado detention
  • denial of fair public trials
  • exemption from the rule of law for some individuals and lack of judicial independence
  • political prisoners
  • infringement of privacy rights
  • significant restriction of civil liberties--freedoms of speech and press, assembly, association, and movement
  • widespread perception of corruption
  • lack of government transparency
  • legal and societal discrimination against women, religious and other minorities
  • strict limitations on worker rights.

By now you must be wondering if the State Department has begun to monitor the United States. No such luck. Those are charges against Saudi Arabia.

The only two charges that might not wholly apply to the U.S. are these—

  • no right to change the government
  • infliction of severe pain by judicially sanctioned corporal punishments

Americans have the nominal—if not actual—right to change the government. And corporal punishments in the United States are judicially sanctioned—it's just that the sanction always follows rather than precedes the punishment.

After studying the example of the United States, antidemocratic governments of the Middle East and Africa have realized how light a burden an official "human rights commission" really is. Such commissions are now becoming an essential part of each country's window dressing for its international storefront. Even Saudi Arabia has one.

According to William Fisher,

The new Saudi human rights body is one of many similar groups organised by Middle East governments in the past few years. Egypt, Jordan and Morocco are among the countries that operate such groups. In Libya, an "informal" human rights group has been organised by the son of the country's ruler, Mu'ammar Gadhafi.

This is as fine a group of human rights exponents as we may hope to see assembled.

The Saudi group got off to a slow start last October, since King Abdullah didn't get around to appointing any members until March. Women, of course, are forbidden to serve on the board.

Human Rights Watch is worried that—

the 15 Saudi detainees transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Saudi custody on May 18 "are unlikely to receive a fair trial and are at risk of torture."

As terrible as that possibility is, can you doubt they were glad to be getting out of Guantánamo and going home?


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