“Chomsky has provided irrefutable analysis on the U.S. continuous violation of human rights, both within and outside its own borders.” — from a lead in to a Democracy Now! interview with Noam Chomsky from 1998

Human Rights organizations today play a major part in international affairs. Human Rights Watch, for instance, works in ninety countries, including virtually all those suffering war or severe government repression. Amnesty International, the largest rights group, has similar coverage and three million members around the world. These two big international human rights groups are joined by diverse and vigorous groups and activists working in virtually every country of the world other than the most closed and repressive. Together, they investigate a wide variety of human rights abuses by governments and armed groups, publicize their misconduct, and generate often intense pressure for change.

But as the international human rights movement, and particularly the big global organizations, have gained prominence and influence, they have become the subject of growing academic interest, much of it critical. In the most recent example that I’m familiar with, The Endtimes of Human Rights, Stephen Hopgood argues that the accomplishments of the human rights movement are the product of a fading political movement. Hopgood laments the passing of the movement’s early days in the 1960s and 1970s when small groups of Amnesty members sat around kitchen tables and wrote letters on behalf of “prisoners of conscience” in such places as Communist Czechoslovakia and Pinochet’s Chile, or lit candles in church basements in solidarity with them. Hopgood admires those early activists for standing “as spiritual guardians outside the prevailing global regime of politics and money.” They were, in his view, characterized by their “detachment from power politics,” acting with a purity that was “without self-interest.”

Today, however, Hopgood sees organizations run by human rights professionals who, he says, are “throwing in their lot” with the U.S. government and other Western powers while losing touch with the movement’s popular origins. Beginning in the 1980s human rights organizations began allying themselves much too closely — I can tell you from personal experience — with the U.S. government in particular, whose support has been inconsistent and whose influence in any event is declining in an increasingly multi-polar world. By entering “the profane worlds of state power and money,” Hopgood suggests, human rights groups have lost the moral authority of the sacred and become the “dispensable allies of power.”

I urge those associated with or supporting rights groups to do what they can to help the well-meaning individuals in such organizations return to their roots, grounded in a popular movement, untainted by the power politics of the state and the insider’s perspective of a well-paid professional staff — to move from Human Rights to human rights. The “human rights” movement should be more about people asserting the dictates of their conscience (through fresh takes on the old Amnesty-style protest campaigns) than professionals investigating human rights abuses and then shaming those responsible in the media and enlisting powerful governments in an effort to change their conduct… running huge fund raising efforts simultaneously. Talk about regime change should be much more suspect than it is at present in such circles.

Fact is, though there’s lots to criticize and question about Hopgood’s critique (Barbara J. Keys comes to mind, her Reclaiming American Virtue: The Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s offering much food for contrary thought), the U.S. government’s Guantanamo detentions and outsourcing of captives, CIA torture with the imprimaturs of professional psychologists from prestigious institutions, unlawful drone abominations, and illegal mass electronic surveillance, murder of journalists and more are taken out of the international spotlight when lights are shined on the blatant abuses perpetrated by is official enemies. Ditto for the crimes of its allies, of course. As a matter of course.

The U.S. has no “right” to violate international law. And the prerogatives it demands are enabled by our present HUMAN RIGHTS dynamic.

All of this should be taught in America’s educational institutions instead of our fostering a generic outlook respecting the rights of others worldwide. And the U.S. role in destroying morality should be underscored, not ignored or justified.

The U.S. is not a democracy, and never was.

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator for half-a-century, and he can be reached He recommends Noam Chomsky’s Human Rights and American Foreign Policy.

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One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    At present, US government is not treating some section of humans as’ humans’ let alone their ‘ rights’ ….! It is concentrating on military and arms build up and machinery relating to war ….