Global Policy Forum

China, Others Criticize US Report on Rights


By Edward Cody*

Washington Post
March 4, 2005

China accused the United States on Thursday of using a double standard to judge human rights in other countries, adding to a list of nations suggesting that the government that produced the Abu Ghraib prison abuses has no business commenting on what happens elsewhere. "No country should exclude itself from the international human rights development process or view itself as the incarnation of human rights that can reign over other countries and give orders to the others," Premier Wen Jiabao's cabinet declared, three days after the State Department criticized China in its annual human rights report.

The Chinese retort, which contained a long list of what it labeled U.S. human rights abuses at home and abroad, came directly from Wen's cabinet, giving it more weight than a Foreign Ministry comment or editorial. In addition, it used unusually direct language -- for example, charging that the United States "frequently commits wanton slaughters during external invasions and military attacks."

A number of other countries criticized in the U.S. report expressed a similar view, that the Bush administration has compromised on human rights and has no standing to chastise others. Such responses often follow Washington's annual report, but the reaction has become more intense and more readily voiced since U.S. abuses of Iraqi and other prisoners were publicized around the world last year. "Unfortunately, [the report] once again gives us reason to say that double standards are a characteristic of the American approach to such an important theme," the Russian Foreign Ministry declared after reviewing the report. "Characteristically off-screen is the ambiguous record of the United States itself."

The Venezuelan vice president, Jose Vicente Rangel, said in a statement that the United States was "not qualified from any point of view" to lecture others on human rights. "The State Department report is more of the same, that is to say, more lies, more falsehoods and more hypocrisies, and therefore it has absolutely no worth," he added.

Jose Luis Soberanes, president of Mexico's Human Rights Commission, also said the United States lacked moral authority to pass judgment on others, citing U.S. treatment of Mexicans who sneak across the border into the United States. He compared Washington's criticism of Mexico's record to "the donkey talking about long ears" -- the Spanish-language equivalent of "the pot calling the kettle black" -- "because the United States violates human rights, especially those of our countrymen."

"The U.S. State Department in its human rights report blames countries such as Egypt and Syria for using torture; however, there is not even a mention of the incidents in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq," complained the mainstream Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. "Of course, there is no mention of Guantanamo, either."

Amnesty International, the human rights organization, noted that the Bush administration has turned over prisoners arrested in the battle against terrorism to some of the countries it cites in the report for torturing prisoners. Human rights activists long have charged that U.S. intelligence officers resorted to this practice, known as rendition, as a way to avoid U.S. restrictions prohibiting the torture of prisoners by allowing foreign agents to do so. "The State Department's carefully compiled record of countries' abuses may perversely have been transformed into a Yellow Pages for the outsourcing of torture," said William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

The acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Michael Kozak, acknowledged when his report was released Monday that the United States did not have a perfect record. But he argued that Americans who commit abuses, such as the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, were being court-martialed and that interrogation techniques used with terrorism suspects at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were being challenged in U.S. courts.

The Chinese statement issued Thursday dismissed this defense as legal window-dressing, suggesting that Abu Ghraib and other instances of abuse were not exceptions committed by bad apples, but the Bush administration's policy in the war on terrorism. "The International Committee of the Red Cross believed that abuse of the detained Iraqis in the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison was not a single case. It was systematic behavior," Beijing's declaration said. "According to some White House documents that were made public on June 22, 2004, the Department of Defense approved to use harsh means to interrogate prisoners in Guantanamo."

China has made a regular practice in recent years of replying to the annual human rights report, denouncing it as interference in domestic affairs. But in counterattacking, it usually focuses on what Chinese officials see as social rights, saying, for instance, that the United States violates the right to good health, the right to be free from racial prejudice and the right to live in security. Thursday's response listed these charges. But it also included an expanded and strongly worded section on alleged human rights violations committed in Iraq and worldwide in the battle against terrorism, particularly the heavily publicized mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, near Baghdad.

"The newspaper Pyramid pointed out that the true face of Americans was exposed through this incident," it said, apparently referring to the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram, or Pyramids in English. In addition, the Chinese document cited what it said was testimony by "one low-ranking U.S. officer" that U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib abused children at the prison and "even assaulted young girls sexually."

China broke off a formal human rights dialogue with the Bush administration a year ago, after the United States sponsored a resolution condemning China at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. A U.S. delegation met with officials in Beijing in early February to discuss resuming the dialogue, but the State Department has not yet made clear whether it intends to introduce a similar resolution in Geneva this year.

About the Author: Correspondents Kevin Sullivan in Mexico City, Peter Finn in Moscow and Doug Struck in Toronto, and researcher Yesim Borg in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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