By Mohammad Mazhari

U.S. doing not enough to criticize rights violations in S. Arabia and Egypt: professor

October 29, 2021 - 18:59

TEHRAN – A professor of law says that the U.S. does not do nearly enough to criticize human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, highlighting double standards when it comes to human rights.

“The U.S. government does not do nearly enough to criticize human rights violations in, e.g. Saudi Arabia or Egypt,” Martin S. Flaherty tells the Tehran Times.   

“All states, to an extent, have double standards when it comes to human rights," Flaherty adds. “They will be strongest in supporting rights doing so comports with other foreign policy goals; less so when there is a conflict.”

Noting that international powers, including Russia and China, also tend to support their allies in human rights cases, Leitner Family Professor of Law and Founding Co-Director of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School argues that “as for the U.S., during the Cold War, the U.S. regrettably turned the other way when it came to the human rights violations among ‘allies’ in Latin America, South Vietnam, and elsewhere.”

Following is the text of the interview: 

Q: How do you see human rights in terms of politics and law as some pundits see human rights under legal topics while others talk about its political aspects?

A: As with many things, human rights can be both.  But as a human rights lawyer, I am concerned with international human rights as part of international law.  States undertake binding international law obligations in at least two ways: treaties and the second is passively consenting to customary international law.  With regard to the first, there are numerous multilateral treaties to which states have become parties. The same is true of human rights as customary international law.

There is a bias in some aspects of the Western media towards Muslim countries, though not all.Q: What are the differences between the Occident (America and Europe) and the Orient when it comes to human rights? Apparently Western states have a supremacist view over the rest of the globe. This view can be a remnant of the colonial era.

A: This is a common dodge used by governing elites in authoritarian states worldwide today is often used by non-Western authoritarian governments.  In the 1980s, when many states in Latin American were under dictatorships, the defense was human rights were "Northern" rather than Global South.  The fact is, states that have acceded to treaties like the ICCPR, ICESCR, and the Convention against Torture, CERD, and CRC, are bound by their terms.  The same is true if they have failed to persistently object to evolving customary norms.  That is not to say that different regions do have different interpretations of certain rights based on culture and region.  That said, international human rights law is not "imposed,” states freely sign onto or not.

It is also worth noting that the UN's first list of rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was drafted by a multi-cultural committee and that UNESCO at the time did a study documenting the ways in which various cultures and religions contained concepts that supported the idea of rights in general and of the rights of the UDHR in particular.

Q: Why do Western media hype human rights violations in Muslim countries? Do you agree that there is a kind of bias and pre-judgment based on stereotypes?

A: There is certainly a bias in certain elements of the Western media with regard to Muslim countries, though not all.  Fox News, which caters to Trump supports, is often bigoted and inflammatory when it comes to dealing with events in Muslim countries.  Conversely, more responsible media, e.g. the New York Times and the Washington Post, strive to be more objective.  (See, e.g., the Time's recent expose of the Pentagon's killing of an innocent Afghan relief worker, forcing the Pentagon ultimately to admit its error.)

Q: What is your comment on Western states' double standards when it comes to human rights? For example, nobody cares about human rights violations by certain tyrannical Arab states due to their cozy ties and common interests with the West. However, America and its allies prefer to focus on countries such as China and Russia.

A: All states, to an extent, have double standards when it comes to human rights.  They will be strongest in supporting rights doing so comports with other foreign policy goals; less so when there is a conflict.  In the UN, two of Syria's greatest defenders are Russia and China.  As for the U.S., during the Cold War, the U.S. regrettably turned the other way when it came to the human rights violations among "allies" in Latin America, South Vietnam, and elsewhere. 

As you indicated, the U.S. government does not do nearly enough to criticize human rights violations in, e.g. Saudi Arabia or Egypt.  That said; note that parts of the U.S. government do.  Check out the U.S. State Department website with its annual country reports on human rights.  It should also be noted that the major and respected U.S.-based human rights NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, robustly criticize the rights violations by Arab governments, as well as by Israel.

Q: What are the main sources of modern human rights in the West? Christian teachings or philosophical wisdom?

A: Probably the main source of the modern idea of human rights, in my view, is the Enlightenment.  One can trace its origins in struggles against tyrannical monarchs and governments in documents such as the English Bill of Rights, the U.S. Bill of Rights, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.  Philosophers who contribute to these ideas include Locke, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Paine.  Religions, in my view, place an ambivalent role.  There are traditions in the major religion that complement the modern ideas of rights; perhaps more often, there are traditions that tend to support authoritarianism.
 

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