Finally someone called out the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the tripe that it is, and withdrew from it. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo was harsh in his criticism when he announced that the United States would no longer associate with this deadbeat body. He called it a “poor defender of human rights”, accused it of being an exercise in “shameless hypocrisy… where the worst abuses were ignored... and some of the worst human rights abusers sit on the council”. He pointed out that, the UNHRC had passed more resolutions against Israel, than all other abusers combined, a telling sign of the libel and anti-Semitism that gets normalised in the modern human rights discourse.
Selective ‘Human Rights Activism’
His harsh statements, though self-serving, are entirely justified, and provide an important segue to re-examine the whole ‘myth of human rights protection’ and its sordid record, of the hypocrisy of individual positions on human rights, and finally – if India should remain associated with the UNHRC.
Human Rights “crusader” and president of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, criticising the US withdrawal, said it was a “sad reflection of the US’ one dimensional human rights policy that prioritises Israel”.
The term “Human Rights Crusader” is apt. It describes a religious fanatic, with dangerous, illogical, scientifically unsubstantiated systems of morality that are based purely on faith and produce some extraordinarily binary reactions: Compassion on one hand and psychopathy on the other. The Crusaders were exactly like this: the Knights Hospitaller, one of the military orders set up to defend the “holy land” against “Saracens”. Having taken the oath of chastity and poverty, on the one hand they would treat the poor as if they were Christ himself, and in an age where leprosy was considered a spreadable disease they would tend to the lesions of its victims with great love and care.
On the other, they saw absolutely no bipolarity in torturing, raping and killing Muslim women and children, massacring prisoners of war and razing cities to the ground. Consider Human Rights Watch itself. It has supported regime change and provided intellectual justification for disastrous regime change operations. Unperturbed by history of human rights interventions in Kosovo (complete ethnic cleansing of the Serb Population) Libya, Iraq & Afghanistan (broken unviable states, with rampant high level violence), HRW and its ilk, support every hare-brained anti-Assad scheme in Syria, including arming “moderates” prolonging a genocidal conflict.
In so doing, these groups actually confer social respectability to genocidal actions, bizarrely divorcing the violence caused by their actions, from some dreamy utopian, unachievable end result they fantasise about.
Leave alone the lack of science, even statistically and methodologically the notion of humanitarian interventions is unsustainable as you have not even one example of a regime change that left the target state better off.
Meet the Modern-Day Crusaders
Despite the lack of holding up to methodological scrutiny, these modern crusaders, unlike the crusaders of the 11th century, actually believe that their actions are scientifically guided. Yet ask yourself this simple question: Is there a scientific definition of human rights? The answer is that there is none. You have a legal definition of human rights, an amorphous one at that, but these rights bear no scientific scrutiny leave alone criticism, claiming as the US declaration of independence does, that these are “self-evident”.
Scientifically speaking, of course this is codswallop. Tomorrow I can torture you, kill you, do whatever, and in scientific terms all it is, is energy transfer and rearranging the dimensions and shape of matter.
In short, the idea of human rights is just as much unscientific rubbish as the notion of god and heaven. So, Ken Roth might think he’s very different from a Muslim-killing, Christian-loving Crusader, but he's really a 21st Century carbon copy, albeit an inferior one, with a much higher delusion content.
That said, there is a legitimate statistical case to be made for human rights in post-industrial states. Industrialisation being one of the most lethal and socially disruptive processes, depends on a string state, with the ruthless suppression of societal violence and establishment of the state’s monopoly over violence. However, once its citizens have over decades if not centuries, been socialised to the notion of the state’s monopoly on violence, then the need arises to protect these citizens from inevitable state overreach. This is critical, because excesses carried out against peaceful law-abiding citizens, disincentivises the greatest achievement of industrialisation – namely sedate non-violence. Equally it is economically harmful as economic activity can only flourish in a stable environment.
US’ Support to Rampant Human Rights Abusers
At this point of human mental evolution, a strong state is actually a huge negative, and these negatives only grow once a highly sedate, educated population, hits the information age. Unsurprisingly, it was the advent of the digital age, the precursor to the information age– the 1980s that saw a wave of democratisation across the industrial world, Taiwan, Korea, the former Soviet Bloc, Spain, Greece, etc to name but a few. The point here is that strong human rights is the end result of a painful social process in post-industrial states – not the cause. As such, imposing Western cut-and-paste templates on places like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya is anthropological nonsense, and they confuse cause and effect.
This brings us to the case of the US withdrawal. This is after all the country that has presided over and subsidised major human rights abusers such as Saudi Arabia, and puts massive amounts of money into the pockets of other human rights abusers like China.
The difference here is though, that the US leadership doesn’t actually drink its proverbial Kool-Aid, even if its foot soldiers do. The US does what it needs to, to protect its own interests, no matter what the costs – despite having pioneered, and being the major global backer of the human rights myth. Their withdrawal from the UNHRC is consistent with their use of human rights as a rhetorical and normative toll of foreign policy. In short, human rights is just as much of a concocted enterprise as the crusades were, with human rights defenders be they individuals, institutions and states thriving on hypocrisy.
India Shouldn’t Look to Western Model of Human Rights
It is high time then, that India understands the anthropological dimensions to this. As a third-world country with endemic social violence largely in the still-feudal rural areas, the very task of creating the state monopoly on violence will be painful and violent. Yet it is a task that cannot be ignored or bypassed. Should India get serious about industrialising, the social churn this causes will only exacerbate the fissures and create the need for greater state control in the short to medium term. In such a scenario, for India’s witless chattering classes, whose intellect (alarmingly) seems somewhat superior to the ruling political class, to nurse delusions that western models apply here is suicidal.
Indeed, the applicability of western policing models to pre-modern pre-industrialised societies has been shown to be an unworkable farce in countries like Afghanistan and the like.
In order to have a western standard of human rights therefore, or even to nuance it to a third world scenario, you would have to significantly expand the police, pay them exceptional salaries, ensure societal reforms that ensure they do not get corrupt and provide a level of training that first overcome their substandard Indian education. All of this is unworkable at every level, political or societal and especially fiscal, given the strain on scarce resources.
India therefore has to approach this issue with the same pragmatic cynicism the US does, stop begging for the approval of an irrelevant propaganda body whose entire premise is an unscientific legal fabrication, and follow the US in saying goodbye and good riddance to the UNHRC.
India’s Arcane Human Rights Laws Need Overhaul
In Afghanistan the showpiece of German-Dutch cooperation: the three-year police training model was considered such a monumental failure, that the Indian 11-month basic training model had to be adopted. Indeed, even in countries like Iraq and Libya that were on the cusp of industrialisation, with Iraq particularly having a first world healthcare model, these paradigms of human rights-led development have failed spectacularly.
The problem is unlike the US whose experts understand these anthropological issues only too well, India and its intellectuals seem either deliberately dishonest or genuinely clueless.
For example, India still has among the lowest police to population ratios on earth, despite high societal violence. What cops exist are badly trained and the laws are written in such arcane language that they would make a native English speaker read the text several times over.
(Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is Senior Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets at @Abhijit_Iyer. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)