US’s dou­ble stan­dards on rights

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Its self-right­eous­ness is back on full dis­play even though it would fail dis­mally against Cuba on a score­card of abuses

Shan­non Ebrahim is the For­eign Ed­i­tor for Independent Me­dia

PRES­I­DENT Don­ald Trump’s big pol­icy re­ver­sal on Cuba last week sent a strong mes­sage to the world: Hu­man rights is not a con­sid­er­a­tion in US for­eign pol­icy, un­less you are the tiny is­land na­tion of Cuba, which is al­ways the ex­cep­tion to the rule.

If you de­tain and tor­ture your cit­i­zens, refuse them the right to ex­press them­selves and fail to hold demo­cratic elec­tions, Trump will sup­port you with­out ask­ing ques­tions or lec­tur­ing you on hu­man rights. When Trump vis­ited Saudi Ara­bia re­cently he said the US would not be lec­tur­ing the Arab world on hu­man rights.

Cuba will al­ways be the ex­cep­tion. The rea­son be­ing that the US will never let Cuba get away with main­tain­ing independent do­mes­tic or for­eign poli­cies from within its back­yard. Suc­ces­sive US ad­min­is­tra­tions since 1960 felt the need to pun­ish such de­fi­ance with ev­ery means nec­es­sary, un­til Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tried to di­lute Amer­i­can ar­ro­gance to some ex­tent.

But US self-right­eous­ness on hu­man rights is back on full dis­play, com­ing just a month af­ter Trump de­clared his in­tent to dis­re­gard the hu­man rights abuses of some of the world’s worst gov­ern­ing cul­prits.

The irony is mind-bog­gling – Cuba is de­picted as an egre­gious hu­man rights abuser, while it is the US that main­tains an il­le­gal mil­i­tary base on the is­land, where it has per­pe­trated some of the worst hu­man rights abuses imag­in­able. The peo­ple who the US mil­i­tary has tor­tured and abused in Guan­tanamo Bay have never had the op­por­tu­nity to de­fend their in­no­cence in a court of law.

If one were to draw up an ob­jec­tive hu­man rights score­card of the US com­pared to Cuba, the US would not come out on top. The eval­u­a­tion would have to take into ac­count the ram­pant racial dis­crim­i­na­tion of Amer­i­can of­fi­cial­dom, the preva­lent abuse of African Amer­i­cans, dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lim refugees, do­mes­tic wage in­equal­ity and the fact that with Trump’s dis­man­tle­ment of Oba­macare, 23 mil­lion Amer­i­cans will be left with­out health in­sur­ance.

On the is­sue of tor­ture, was it not Trump who de­fended pre­vi­ously sanc­tioned US tor­ture tac­tics and had his of­fi­cials pro­duce a draft ex­ec­u­tive or­der to bring back tor­ture? That draft or­der was pub­lished by The New York Times. Tor­ture was a key part of Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity plat­form as a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Repub­li­can Se­na­tor John McCain, a tor­ture sur­vivor, re­sponded to Trump’s state­ments by say­ing: “The pres­i­dent can sign what­ever ex­ec­u­tive or­ders he likes. But the law is the law. We are not bring­ing back tor­ture in the US.”

Cuba, on the other hand, does not pub­licly de­fend the right to tor­ture its cit­i­zens or those of other coun­tries. It guar­an­tees the right of its cit­i­zens to health­care, ed­u­ca­tion, so­cial se­cu­rity, food, peace and devel­op­ment. When the US crit­i­cises Cuba for har­bour­ing a fugi­tive of Amer­i­can jus­tice, Trump is re­fer­ring to the asy­lum Cuba gave to Amer­i­can black ac­tivist Joanne Ch­es­i­mard in 1984. She had been con­victed of killing a white Amer­i­can po­lice­man. Trump is call­ing for her ex­tra­di­tion.

The hu­man rights score­card would also have to take into con­sid­er­a­tion the for­eign in­volve­ment of both coun­tries around the globe. Amer­ica would score dis­mally, con­sid­er­ing its il­le­gal mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq based on lies pre­sented to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity about weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

It would also look at the hu­man rights abuses its forces com­mit­ted in Abu Ghraib de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity, as well as the count­less black spots where it car­ried out ren­di­tion in or­der to tor­ture peo­ple in se­cret with im­punity. Then there are the count­less killings of ter­ror sus­pects by US drones and bombs – none of the vic­tims had the chance to de­fend their in­no­cence.

As Cuba stated in its re­ac­tion to Trump’s pol­icy re­ver­sal, Cuba is party to 44 in­ter­na­tional in­stru­ments on hu­man rights, while the US is party to about 20. Cuba’s For­eign Min­is­ter Bruno Rodriguez couldn’t have been more ac­cu­rate in his de­pic­tion of Trump’s pol­icy state­ment as a “grotesque spec­ta­cle straight from the Cold War”.

It is al­most laugh­able that Trump said his pol­icy po­si­tion could be sub­ject to ne­go­ti­a­tion if Cuba ad­hered to US de­mands to end the abuse of dis­si­dents, re­lease po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, re­frain from jail­ing in­no­cent peo­ple, in­sti­tute po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic re­forms, and ex­tra­dite Ch­es­i­mard. Surely the list should be the yard­stick with which Trump should eval­u­ate his own coun­try’s hu­man rights abuses? As Cuba said: “The US is not in the con­di­tion to lec­ture us on hu­man rights.”

Why should South Africa care if Trump en­gages in the usual Amer­i­can dou­ble stan­dards on Cuba? As our for­eign pol­icy is based on pro­gres­sive in­ter­na­tion­al­ism, we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to raise our con­cerns about the glar­ing in­jus­tice in Amer­ica’s in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.

HYP­O­CRIT­I­CAL: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s poli­cies con­tinue to de­pict Cuba as an egre­gious hu­man rights abuser, while it is the US that is be­hind some of the worst hu­man rights abuses, says the writer.

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