Dr Yuan Sha is an assistant research fellow at the Department for American Studies of the China Institute of International Studies. The article reflects the author’s opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
Most Americans see themselves as defenders of human rights, but many do not realize that the U.S. is not an exception to human rights abuses. The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2018 released by China’s State Council Information Office is filling this glaring gap.
Deteriorating U.S. human rights record The U.S. State Department just unveiled its 2018 country reports on human rights practices, which blasted human rights abuses around the world, but with a notable exception of itself.2018 was a particularly bad year for human rights in the U.S., and the story needs to be told. Some of the human rights abuses are deeply rooted in the U.S. political system and social values.Inequality and financial disparity between the rich and the poor is enlarging, making the U.S. the worst in terms of income inequality among Western countries, which is a denial of the rights of less-privileged people.Hate crimes are rearing their ugly head, exposing rising discrimination based on race, religion and sexual orientation and impairing the rights of minority groups.The “Me Too Movement” highlights the persistent discrimination on gender and widespread sexual harassment, which hurts the rights of women.Other human rights violations are spurred by the current US administration.President Trump’s war on the media has curtailed freedom of the press in the US.His harsh stance on immigration and the infamous “family separation” policy gave rise to a humanitarian crisis at the US-Mexico border.
U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor answers questions in the press briefing room of the State Department March 13, 2019 in Washington. /VCG PhotoHis divisive rhetoric encourages right-wing populism and religious intolerance, and has brought the white supremacist movement into mainstream politics.The Mueller investigations has also revealed scandals involving the president and given us a glimpse into rampant money politics in the US.What is the most astonishing of all is the U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is widely seen as its abdication of responsibility to safeguard human rights.
U.S. hypocrisy exposedThis report used facts and figures to expose the hypocrisy of the U.S. for it is selective in human rights issues to the best of its advantage.First of all, the U.S. believes in American exceptionalism. Self-proclaimed as a “City upon a Hill,” the U.S. sees itself with a “manifest destiny.” But it is not exceptional, for instance, that the U.S. is no safe haven for digital freedom or privacy, for it has become a common practice by its intelligence officers to search through ordinary Americans’ emails, calls, and chats without obtaining a warrant. The U.S. is also used to dictating its own values to others. Some are well-intentioned, but others are more sinister in nature. Since any society has a legitimate right to practice its own value system, it would be offensive and self-defeating to impose Western values on others.Second, the U.S. is using human rights as a basis or excuse to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. By naming and shaming others in the name of defending human rights, the U.S. is able to justify unilateral sanctions or even military attacks against a sovereign nation. By putting moral pressure on the international community, the US is able to mobile a coalition against the target.Third, the U.S. is practicing double standards on human rights issues. It would spare no effort to fabricate or amplify human right abuses of its rivals and enemies. It would deliberately downplay human rights violations of its allies and partners. It even wages war against another country in the name of human rights which only brings bigger human rights disasters. For example, the U.S.-led air strikes in Syria and Yemen have led to an abhorrent number of civilian deaths, which have been euphemized as collateral damage.
Children stand by a new section of the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in this picture taken from Anapra neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico May 3, 2018. /VCG Photo
A worthy but complex endeavorThe report is also trying to remind the international community that human rights are a worthy but complex endeavor.First of all, there is a tension between universalism and particularism. Human rights are a universal value that we champion as humanity. But there is no universalized way to prioritize among various human rights. One man’s food is another man’s poison. Some societies might prioritize individual rights while others might prioritize collective rights, and some value life while others value liberty.Second, there is a trade-off between absolutism and relativism. There is no such thing as an absolute right. Sometimes it needs painful choices and trade-off. It would be immoral to secure a man’s right by sacrificing another’s. The prolonged debate on the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is a case in point, for the right to bear guns inevitably impairs the right to security.Third, there needs to be a balance between rights and obligations. Social beings have rights as well as obligations. If everyone only asks for rights, the society as a whole suffers. For example, the US laissez-faire approach to freedom of speech, say antisemitism, only provokes discrimination and hatred. The US practice of liberal internationalism at home and around the world denies less-privileged people and countries the right of development and the pursuit of happiness.Given the above inherent difficulties, there is still a long way to go before the international community truly delivers on the lofty commitment.