Ranking, the politicised human rights

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The Human Right Council headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. UNHRC

Following the end of World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was the pioneering legal document adopted by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in 1948 to delineate the fundamental human rights which require universal protection.

Regrettably, the universality has been exploited as an immoral excuse for “naming and shaming, politicisation and interference” by some actors in serving their political motives and interest, rather than upholding “equal footing and same emphasis of human rights” and “international cooperation”, contradictory to the core principles of the declaration itself, the UN Charter, and many internationally agreed texts.

Resolutions 60/251 of the UNGA and 5/1 and 47/9 of the Human Rights Council emphasise the importance of ensuring universality, objectivity, and non-selectivity in the consideration of human rights issues, and the elimination of double standards and politicisation.

The longstanding calls prove that the politicisation of human rights is tangibly real yet counterproductive to the true test of human rights development. Concretely, the politicisation can be verified through different modes of manifestation such as selective treatment of human rights issues, double standards in assessment, confrontation instead of dialogue, and/or exercise of unilateral coercion instead of multilateral cooperation.

For state actors, the fact that this ill-conduct continues unabated owes to the expensive political interests in pursuit of global hegemony. For instance, during the Cold War, the US enforced “human rights diplomacy” as a political tool to attack the other camp.

Thereafter, the western allies have arrogantly imposed upon other countries of different political systems their own human rights and political values, despite self-imperfection, in the attempt to maintain their dominance, through different ways and means, inter alia, attacking the legitimacy of ones’ governments, setting hierarchies of human rights’ categories, making military interference and assistance, imposing economic assistance and sanction, and labeling other countries’ performance, instigating domestic turmoil and uprising at the pretext of their unfounded allegation against a corrupt government, election fraud, restriction on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, etc.

The glaring irony emerges out of those self-proclaimed human rights champions and preachers when they turn the blind eye to see and fix their own problems at home and further whitewash images of themselves and their allies off the torture, assassination, and myriad systematic and flagrant human rights violations at home and abroad. Their data is drawn unilaterally and exclusively to support their biased, non-standardised methodology and prejudiced conclusion without incorporating the authoritative factual and legal grounds and efforts, and without taking into account the particularities of each country’s context.

This negligence cannot establish the truth, but the malicious act of disinformation. It is even worse when state-funding beneficiaries, including some civil society organisations and media agencies, engage in these ill-conceived campaigns. It merits incredibility and double standard when certain country points fingers at others in the annual human rights report, for example on Trafficking in Persons (TIP), whereas it does not include its own issue in the report.

Is the authoring country of the report exempt from the human rights obligation or is there just too much to narrate about itself?

When justice is not fulfilled, it surely invites backfire. It will be reminded of the more than 13,000 people experiencing commercial sex trafficking in Sacramento County in the US state of California between 2015 and 2020, police brutality and torture causing at least 1,124 people killed in 2021, and 40 million living in poverty in its territory, let alone shocking death tolls of war crimes committed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Human right is not a sprint, but a long-distance run. Publication of classification reports not only demotivates and jeopardises states’ endeavours but also portrays the overwhelming obvious images of politicisation and double standards of the authors and their allies, which end ups in self-destruction and distrust in relations between states in return. The ultimate test is not the catharsis of public critique or rated ranking for any champion, but its success is measured by the yardstick of meaningful change in people’s lives for which each government has been striving.

Therefore, politicisation and double standards in human rights issues shall cease, and genuine cooperation shall be upheld to promote mutual trust and collective betterment on Earth.

A Gladiator arena where governments made an allegation against each other is not needed, but joint efforts in identifying root causes of problems and working out viable resolves are.

The true essence of human rights universality starts at home and is measured by the internationally agreed mechanisms to track and advise the human rights obligation. If compelled to advocate human rights abroad with inward credibility, one should first look at the number of the international human rights treaties, optional protocols, and reservations that their countries have ratified, and concretise their genuine commitment to cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms.

The aforementioned criteria also apply for the audience to take into account before placing belief on, referencing, or echoing any report on human rights.

Va Veasna is a human rights observer based in Geneva, Switzerland. The views expressed are the authors’ own.