The Americans pass out their grades

This article supplements the one at 990226a.htm.

From: "Tages-Anzeiger"
February 27, 1999

Washington's report on human rights is missing a chapter on their own country

by Thomas Ruest, Washington

As it does in February every year, the US State Department published its report on contempt for human rights on Friday. From the Balkans to Africa, from the Near East to Burma, countries were lined up according to how they rank. The report says that for 1998, 55 percent of the world's population live under more or less democratic conditions in 117 countries.

Especially chastised was the Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic for the murders of Serb groups in Kosovo. In 1998 alone the atrocities cost 2,000 people their lives and drove 180,00 people to flee. The criticism continued to say that Milosevic also suppressed the opposition in the remaining Serb regions and violated fundamental human rights.

Typical for its meting out of grades is that Washington often deals mildly with states which have the same economic and political interests that it does. While Iraq, Syria, Libya and Cuba continue as the traditional villains, China, as well as numerous countries of Central and South America, were treated with greater reserve.

For the first time, countries of the former Soviet Union reaped harsh criticism: White Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were accused of lapsing into authoritarian practices.

Democracy and Crisis Management

The introduction to the several hundred page report is unique this year: the US State Department makes a direct connection between democracy and crisis management. The report states that authoritarian administrations can, indeed, bring about a temporary prosperity, but in view of corruption and denial of citizens rights, the prosperity cannot be sustained. "When severe economic downturns occur, authoritarian regimes cannot respond flexibly or effectively to economic problems. Without genuine democratic mechanisms to channel popular displeasure, the government must often choose greater repression to avoid a popular uprising."

Indonesia and South Korea were compared to each other as examples of this theory: while the authoritarian Suharto regime had a political crisis in the middle of serious economic problems, the South Korean President Kim received, thanks to a democratic election, the support of his people in making incisive reforms.

The Human Rights organization, Amnesty International, has criticized the annual report because nothing about the USA itself is mentioned in it. Its opinion was that the world power should not be "immune from international observation." Among the serious violations of human rights in the USA, Amnesty cites "systematic mistreatment" of prisoners with electroshock and shackles. The minimum standards for the imposition and carrying out of the death sentence continue to be ignored. In this regard, Amnesty referred to the execution of Sean Sellers at the beginning of February: at the time of his crime, the condemned man was 16 years old. It is said that acceleration of the proceedings would increase the danger of innocent people being executed.

The taxpayers pay

At least verbally, the Clinton administration speaks in favor of the USA becoming more watchful in matters of human rights in its own land. Victims of mistreatment by police and prison guards continue to be awarded higher compensations for their suffering. To that, Amnesty laconically stated that "the (compensation by the state) means that, in fact, it is the tax payer who is bearing the burden for the authorities in the misuse of their power."

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