Human rights and the coming global chaos

Abdullah Bishara
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The recent article by Kawther al-Jouan about the position of the United States and her observations on human rights in Kuwait reminded me of what I saw in the United Nations, and the divisions and tensions between Western and socialist countries. At the time there was no permanent Human Rights Committee, as is the case today, and whose activities in Geneva we are following.

Human rights were discussed in a sub-committee under the meetings of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which consisted of more than fifty countries that met to discuss a broad agenda that combined economic issues with social reality, and the topics then branched into committees, including the Human Rights Commission.

Some ECOSOC meetings took place in New York and others in Geneva, and nothing of note was achieved by that committee.

I remember that I attended a session of the Human Rights Committee as an ECOSOC subcommittee, and found its meetings did not attract the delegations, with more absences than presences, nor did the accredited journalists follow them. And with the rising pressure on the socialist bloc, Western countries became increasingly keen for a proposal to appoint an international commissioner to follow up on human rights in member states.

This proposal was included in the agenda of the Third Committee on social and humanitarian issues, and tensions erupted when the proposal to appoint the Commissioner-General was discussed. Seasoned debaters were recruited to attend the discussion, whether from Western countries to support the proposal, or from socialist countries to oppose it. Revolutionary and radical Arab countries armed themselves with the best arsenal to thwart the project.

I was one of those in opposition to the proposal, not as a rejection of the principle, but because it was a means of embarrassing and putting pressure on the Soviet Union to expel the largest number of Russian Jews banned from immigration to the West or to Israel, as well as the concerns of radical Arab countries in which minorities do not enjoy citizenship rights, with Iraq as prime example, in addition to Sudan and Syria.

The commissioner's proposal did not evolve until the situation in Russia changed with the fall of the Soviet empire. At that point, a new body was formed, based in Geneva, headed by a special commissioner to follow up on human rights.

The last person I knew on the committee was Raad bin Zeid, who was clear and frank in his embrace of human justice in global societies.

I write all this as an introduction to a sensitive reality experienced by the global family, which I believe to be at risk for grave upheavals in the future stemming from devastating political and social chaos. Here are the causes of my pessimistic outlook:

First, today's world is becoming increasingly mixed and interconnected, geographically, culturally and in our shared fate, due to the development of technology and transportation that has transcended oceans, deserts and distances, and entered our homes, filling our mobile phone with news of the most remote areas of the planet. It is driven by technology providing rich material for all areas of life, conveying unfolding developments that both delight and alarm us. Thus, we learn about the events of Asia and Burma, the threat of ISIS and the massacre of Boko Haram in Africa. All of this causes anxiety and tension affecting everyone, and causing everyone to rush to protect themselves from immigrants or from religious or ethnic minorities, or from political opponents with different interpretations. These types of reactions came from the spread of political culture and following of events and their causes around the globe, all this flood of information that is so easily delivered to us modern human inventions. We now know everything we want to know through these inventions, hence the interconnectedness of the fate of the world and the interference of mechanisms for maintaining its collective security, as the crises in Asia have negative consequences for us in the Gulf and on others elsewhere.

A man walks past the United Nations headquarters in New York on March 11, 2021, one year after the pandemic was officially declared. (AFP)
A man walks past the United Nations headquarters in New York on March 11, 2021, one year after the pandemic was officially declared. (AFP)

Second, these fears have sparked the fires of nationalism; nations began to build walls to prevent the influx of others, and tourists became a source of fear, strangers are rejected. National chauvinism managed to expand, and some countries do not care about what happens to others as long as they remain safe and secure, albeit temporarily. Leaders now affirm their rejection of the concepts of shared fate, and their opposition to taking part in humanitarian aid operations.

The former Commissioner for Human Rights set a precedent in his frank conversations about leaders who violate human rights. He did not mince his words in describing the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, as a fanatic racist, or calling former US president Donald Trump a threat to human rights, as well as advising the Philippine president to undergo psychological counseling.

There is no doubt that the world is now inclined to close doors and hide behind national borders, and due to mounting fears, will not respond to the pleas of human rights organizations.

The tides of nationalism are on the rise after the decline in peace and security in the global community.

Third, one of the developments in US diplomacy during the era of President Biden is the bilateralism that constitutes the content of American diplomacy, which is the convergence of positions, interests and partnership in adherence to high human and constitutional values that protect human rights, protect life and secure immunity from religious or ethnic persecution. This is the diplomacy referred to by Kawther al-Jouan in her message to the American ambassador to Kuwait. I do not think that President Biden's administration is ignorant of the reality of Islamic countries in their commitment to the principles of the true Islamic religion, respect for its message, and the application of its rules. Therefore, it is unreasonable for anyone to imagine that we in Islamic countries will accept gay marriage, as there are prohibitions in all religions, and there are rituals, traditions and heritage that cannot be dismantled. I do not imagine that anyone in the White House expects us to reflect what is going on in some secular European countries.

Fourth, with the Coronavirus pandemic and the diminishing ability of developed countries and some developing countries to provide aid to poor countries, the imperatives of the intervention of the global community will emerge to prevent the spread of epidemics, assuage poverty, and prevent migration to more promising areas, in light of major disruption to global security and frightening chaos which no border can hold back.

The European-American fear is not of hunger-driven immigration, but also of the severe religious extremism that has caused panic in the Middle East and in European countries, unleashing widespread paranoia. We see it now in the measures taken by France and others to tighten the hijab ban for minors, the repatriation of religious preachers to their countries, and prohibiting citizens from preaching in the mosques.

In this atmosphere, justice related to human rights diminishes, its priorities diminish, and societies are preoccupied with more dangerous threats. This is why general chaos on the planet will spread and weaken the principles that we cherish in protecting human rights.

Finally, I can refer to my experience at the United Nations when I was head of the Committee for the Prohibition of Arms for South Africa. I had to monitor anyone selling weapons to South Africa, which had instituted apartheid. The developed countries were supposed to inform me, using their surveillance and spy technology and mechanisms, about who was exporting weapons to South Africa.

I sat for two years as the head of the committee and the states did not care to inform me, in order to expose those who challenge the Security Council’s boycott decision. It was a disturbing situation, in which I relied on sources from the churches and humanitarian groups present in European societies. Using newspapers was unreliable because of the ease of denial.

The human rights bodies inside the United Nations building were my source, and states did not pay attention to this limited source. From this experience, I came to believe in the role of public benefit organizations in exposing betrayals, irregularities and corrupt practices, but now they are subjected to financial harassment, security prosecutions and the enmity of tyrants.

Splits will occur in some Arab countries, in Iran and in the Levant, for the reality of developing countries cannot accommodate US diplomacy dreams that mix interests with human aesthetics.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas.

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