Human Rights… The Sacrifice on its Feast Day!

Linked with our presentation of Bahey El-Din Hassan – Egypt.

By Bahey El Din Hassan, Director, The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (see – The 11th of September terrorist attacks on the United States’ installations opened the gates of hell, not only before 4000 victims from 60 states but also before the whole world.

On the 11th of September, war started against all that have to do with human rights. Three months after the event, and on the Universal Day for Human Rights, war is being actively continued. On the one hand, the USA is preparing for a second round. It may be in Somali, according to this week’s issue of the Observer. It may be in Iraq, as successively declared by a number of US officials last week.

On the other hand, the Council of Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs in the European Union is discussing this week a new draft legislation to combat terrorism that implies violation of the human rights standards and the European Convention for Human Rights.

In Milano, a racist demonstration was staged on the Universal Day of Human Rights under the lead of the Italian vice-premier. The demonstration was waged against Arabs and Muslims and called for their expulsion. In India, the government has prepared a new law, under the pretext of combating terrorism, that gives the security forces a free hand in assaulting public freedoms and the freedom of the press. Meanwhile, suffering of thousands of Afghani refugees, who are about to be swooped down by the Afghani chilly winter, continues for the third month.

In the Arab world, a number of governments did not spare the opportunity and doubled their oppression of moderate Islamist groups and individuals suspected of belonging to armed Islamist groups. Newspapers are confiscated and non-Islamist members of parliaments and opposition members are prosecuted. However, it was Israel that first seized the opportunity. While describing Arafat as Bin Laden, Sharon has launched, throughout three months, the cruelest of Israel’s brutal campaigns against the Palestinian people. This took place amidst the roar of international silence whose eyes are fixed at Afghanistan and whose ears are used to hearing the sound of guns and are no longer capable of receiving the vibrations of the victims’ moans from all over the world, including the USA! Kenneth Roth, director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch says: “It is easy to promote human rights when nothing is at stake. My feeling is that it is moments of crisis like this, in times of a national security threat, that our voice is the most unpopular and also the most important.”

The Emergence of Fascism

By virtue of the new US legislation, the USA has become threatened of sinking to the bottom of the third world states. The US Ministry of Defense can now hold confidential military trials of civilians suspected of belonging to a group of certain states per se. These trials are based on the testimonies of witnesses who can not be recognized or contacted.

No accurate record is made of the names, nationalities, charges or places of detention where the detainees, since the 11th of September, are imprisoned. Three months after their arrest, they are not allowed the assistance of lawyers. This is considered by the US human rights NGOs to be a serious violation of the US Constitution. These procedures are mainly directed towards non-Americans and newcomers from other states. However, the US anti-terrorist law of the 26th of October greatly undermines civil freedoms. According to President Bush,

“Surveillance of communications is another essential tool to pursue and stop terrorists. Existing law was written in the year of rotary telephones. This new law that I signed today will allow surveillance of all communications used by terrorists, including emails, the Internet, and cell phones.

As of today, we’ll be able to better meet the technological challenges posed by this proliferation of communications technology. Investigations are often slowed by limit on the reach of federal search warrants. Law enforcement agencies have to get a new warrant for each new district they investigate, even when they’re after the same suspect. Under this new law, warrants are valid across all districts and across all states.”

To el-Quds newspaper, Khalil Gamshan, vice president of the Arab American Committee against Discrimination, says that the measures taken by the American Administration to combat terror would lead to the gradual marginalization of the role of the Judiciary and the consequent imbalance of the three authorities, especially that the US judiciary plays a major role in deciding the jurisdictions of the legislative authority and the executive. A sweeping majority in the USA and lobbies from inside and outside the US Administration call for prioritizing national security requirements over that of defending civil rights and freedoms. Security bodies have employed this climate to strengthen their jurisdictions in an unprecedented way in the US history and expand them to fields totally rejected by the judiciary, the Congress and the public opinion in the past.

In this context, the reply of the US Minister of Justice in the press to the subsequent complaints by US human rights NGOs can be understood where he resorted to the same phraseology employed by the third world interior ministers. He questioned the intentions of the critics of his ministry’s policies considering them opposed to the war against terror!

The matter was also reflected in the positions of some US local funding agencies which announced coarsely that they will not fund any US organization criticizing the US policy of combating terror.

The situation being as such in the USA, it is natural that the US administration would cover up the war crimes, including detention, torture, murder and massacres perpetrated by the allied Afghani troops and would not publicly criticize them. By virtue of International Humanitarian Law, though, the USA bears a joint responsibility for the crimes committed by the Northern Alliance troops.

The aftermath of the 11th of September attacks expanded to the media where a number of the most prominent US mass media have become a trumpet for their administration, like their counterparts in the third world, propagating its policies and banners. They have turned to whipping all opponents of the state who fail to follow the heeds of the US Administration.

Though the US Administration did not criticize its allies in Afghanistan, it has strongly and publicly supported the Israeli Prime Minister. The latter has pursued his series of massacres against the Palestinian people. These massacres have stained his hands since he was an officer in the 1953 Qeba massacre, and then a Defense Minster in the 1982 Sabra and Shattila massacre, Lebanon. Now, he is even pursuing these daily killings more actively in the West Bank and Gaza.

The American Administration could not patiently wait 34 days after the 11th of September attacks and could not wait for negotiations to hand in Bin Laden. However, it is criticizing the Palestinian people for not enduring the 34-year-old occupation and the 53 years of suffering, including the oldest tragedy of refugees all over the world (5 millions). It thus gave Sharon the green light and the appropriate political cover to shed the blood of this people.

With Mary Robinson

This was one of the topics that we discussed last Thursday in the special meeting held in Geneva by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson, with a delegation consisting of myself and two directors of Palestinian human rights NGOs: Khedr Shukirat and Ragi Sourani. They were also members of the Secretariat of the Arab NGOs Caucus participating in the World Conference against Racism in Durban.

We convened with the UN High commissioner for Human Rights a day after the conclusion of the conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The conference issued a rhetorical statement that reaffirms what the whole world, save Israel, recognizes, i.e. that this convention is applicable to the occupied Palestinian territories. However, the participating states did not take any single measure to force Israel to abide by its obligations under this Convention. We told Mrs. Mary Robinson that the message this statement carries for the Palestinian people is that the international community is indifferent to its pains. Thus, the Palestinian person has no alternative but to achieve its rights by force and by whatever means.

I told Mrs. Mary Robinson that the international community needed only six months to force Iraq out of Kuwait, some other months to intervene in Kosovo, and twenty-six days to wage the war against Afghanistan, while it lacks the minimum political will to enforce resolutions that have been adopted for more than half a century ago.

The international community has never tolerated such blackmailing by a state that threatens international peace and security, starts wars, occupies lands, and commits acts of segregation almost daily. And yet the international community is not able to subject it to the same standards of accountability applied to the rest of the world.

In the framework of the evaluation of the Human rights Education program at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, an analysis was made of the questionnaires given to trainees who are of diverse nationalities. The answer of a reasonable number of trainees to a simple question was unexpected at all. The question was “Do you believe that international resolutions and agreements have a binding nature over states?” And the answer was No!!

Mary Robinson could not give us but a helpless smile.

It can be argued that since the issuance of the Human rights Declaration on the 10th of December 1948, the human rights issue did not face such a serious challenge not only at the level of the daily breaches perpetrated all over the world, but also at the level of legislation and practice. For the first time, human rights are facing the question of credibility and worth. Does the world still need these values, ideals and charters? Or are they surpassed by time? For the millionth time, are human rights universal?

For a large number of upholders of elevated humane ideals and common higher interests of humanity all over the world, the answer is an absolute yes. However, this answer has become insufficient after the engagement of the majority of governments in retaliation at the cost of the simplest human rights principles under the pretext of combating terrorism.

Absolute confidence in the triumph of good over evil is not sufficient. We are in dire need of a new field and theoretical effort to respond to such huge challenge. This is a common responsibility of the human rights movement in the whole world. Towards this end, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies shall convene next moth an international symposium in which major international NGOs and human rights experts will participate to examine the common challenges facing the human rights movement after the 11th of September attacks and their aftermath.

I asked some foreign diplomats who are following up the human rights situation in Egypt: “Do you still follow up the situation with the concerned authorities?” Their constant shameful answer was: “We ask… But not persistently!”

The US Administration is used to publish an annual report in February on the human rights situation in the world. Some used to take it seriously and others to take it lightly.

There is a widespread belief that this report is one of the victims of the war against terrorism and that it will not be ever published again. However, if published, I don’t think that anybody would bother him/herself to read it seriously.

It would be the Jeu d’esprit of the 21st century.

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