LONDON — I am glad that March is over. The problem with the month is that it begins with the release of the U.S. State Department’s annual reports on human rights violations worldwide (except in the United States, of course). Just as you come to terms with that, in the middle of the month, the six-week meeting in Geneva of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights begins detailed debate of accusations of human rights violations in U.N. member countries.
If you read the country chapters of the State Department’s report and the transcripts of the U.N. debates, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that man’s inhumanity to man has not slackened much since the Middle Ages.
Just about every vile practice for torturing, enslaving, abusing and exploiting people is being followed today in some countries that belong to the United Nations and that signed on to various U.N. conventions aimed at eliminating such practices.
The annual “U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” set out what is known, or claimed to be known, about human rights violations in all U.N. member countries. It identifies violations of one form or another in all the countries covered, claiming that serious violations exist in more than 100 of them. A separate annual report, “Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record,” lists actions that the U.S. government has taken to try to improve human rights conditions in countries where serious violations have been identified.
The country reports are mostly up to date and specific. The report on Uzbekistan, for example, gives the names of two men alleged to have been boiled alive in that country. It also covers a wide range of rights violations, as defined by international conventions, for which there is evidence to show that they occurred in 2004. Much of the evidence is very detailed and well substantiated.
It is clear from reading the report on Uzbekistan that the situation, with respect to human rights violations in that country, is getting worse. Although the report does not suggest that anyone died in custody last year, it provides evidence that torture is still widespread in police stations, security force headquarters and prisons.
While the report on the “U.S. Record in Uzbekistan” lists some measures of support that the U.S. provides for civil society and as a public relations against human rights violations, it recognizes that the situation is getting worse. That’s not surprising. What the U.S. reports do not mention is that the brutal Uzbek dictatorship is supported by the U.S. The war on terrorism comes higher up on the U.S. list of concerns than do human rights violations.
The U.S. Defense Department more than compensates for reductions in development aid introduced by the State Department with higher payments for maintaining a military base in the country. A blind eye is also turned to the fact that Uzbekistan plays major roles in supporting the growth of drug production in Afghanistan and in distributing those drugs to Europe and the U.S. And, oh, the trafficking of women and children to Persian Gulf States for sexual exploitation is glossed over, too.
The two U.S. reports on North Korea contrast mightily with those on Uzbekistan, as do the U.S. government’s responses to the human rights situation in both countries. As for human rights conditions in North Korea, there are none of the detailed, well-documented accounts of recent violations that are in the reports on Uzbekistan. Most of the information on which the reports are based is hearsay. It comes from reports from defectors and economic migrants.
There are two problems with the hearsay evidence on which most of the allegations of human rights violations in North Korea are based: The first is that, for the most part, they refer to incidents alleged to have taken place during the regime led Kim Il Sung, not Kim Jong Il. The second problem is that it is not possible, or at least it should not be possible, to take a strong position on the basis of hearsay evidence alone. Yet the U.S. does.
The hearsay reports allege that some really nasty violations of human rights are still taking place. There are claims of infanticide and forced abortions in prisons. Despite tens of thousands of border crossings and re-crossings — even ex-prisoners often move across the border several times — there is no direct evidence of such abuses taking place, only hearsay claims.
The only physical evidence of abuse in the U.S. report are satellite pictures of what is described as a prison camp, with arrows pointing out the functions of different buildings. The problem here is that there are no people in the photographs, neither prisoners nor guards.
There is direct evidence on one point: The U.S. report draws attention to what it calls the “Failure [of Pyongyang] to address trafficking in women and girls [across the border into China].” Earlier this year a video was made of a public execution near the border with China in which three men were hung for engaging in human trafficking.
We do know how bad violations of human rights are in Uzbekistan, as the U.S. protects and supports the regime responsible for those violations. We do not know how bad or how extensive the violations are in North Korea. Yet there are those in the U.S. government who argue that regime change should be forced on the North because of its human rights violations. Draw your own conclusions.
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