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February 01, 2006

Comments

official

Two words "morally repugnant",used by you in your article has stimulated me to respond to you.I do so as a citizen of The Bahamas,and not in any official capacity.

I found it very interesting that you did not make a connection between the recital of Iran's recent history and what is happening in Iran today. One cannot say with absolute certainty,except in physics, that one event,or a series of events,causes a particular set of responses,but one can draw some plausible conclusions.In the case of Iran,a plausible conclusion is that American policies towards Iran, has produced the present hostile regime.You might recall that the immediate past president of Iran was considered a moderate,and the US refused to deal with him.The result of this policy is an Iranian government that will not deal with the US.

Iran is not the only instance of a failed US policy.Take Palestine as an example.The Bush administration decided that Arafat was a terrorist,and refused to deal with him.The end result of US policy in Palistine is a Hamas government,the worst possible outcome for the US.

The jury is still out on Iraq.What is true however,is that more Iraquis have died as a result of US actions in Iraq,than was killled in the 35 years of the Saddam regime.Many of the persons who died during the Saddam regime died from weapons supplied to Saddam by the US,a US ally until the invasion of Kuwait,and one of thereasons the US was so sure that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction,was because the US had supplied the weapons during the Iran-Iraq war.

Us policy appear to be just as misguided in South America as it is in the Middle East.Hostile policies directed at Venezuela has produced Morales in Boliva,and less than friendly regimes in Argentina,Brazil and Paraguay.

It is clear that the policies of the US are not ptoducing the results that the US desires,and therefore how should friends of the US respond to those US policies that are producing such disastrous results?I have always believed that a true friend is one who will point out your mistakes,and who will not encourage you in your wrong doing.If I am right,then CARICOM and the Bahamas has been a true friend to the US,because they have refused to support the misguided policies of the US.

Until the US removes the stain of Guantanamo off its hands, the US is in no moral position to lecture anyone on human rights.The fact that CARICOM and The Bahamas does not support the US in its hipocrisy,does not mean that they support the human rights violations in the countries that the US wishes to condemn.I think Caricom and The Bahamas would support US policy,if the policy was even-handed,condemming human rights violations wherever they occur,and not simply singling out those countries that the US wishes to condemn.

Back to where we started.I think it would be morally repugnant to sopport a policy that is morally flawed,simply because our most important partners wanted us to do so.I think we should point out the flaw in the policy,and refuse to support it,even if doing so incurs the wrath of the most powerful country on earth.

What do you think?

larry smith

I most certainly did draw that connection:

"The suppression of Iran's nationalist aspirations over the past century led to the situation we find ourselves in now."

What the US and UK did to Mossadeq at the height of the Cold War created fertile fields for the 1979 revolution.

Khatami had no power - his supporters were
constantly terrorised by the real authorities. I believe there was quite a bit of dealing during the US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the argument could be made that the US did not reward the Iranians sufficiently to move the process forward.

The US declined to deal with Arafat because he was an obstacle to the process. Clinton and Barak
offered him just about everything at Camp David and he still would not deal. His government was corrupt and he had no vision for the future - only more of the same.

I originally thought that dealing with Saddam could be a world-changing event for the better. It does not appear to be working out that way, but the end game has not arrived yet.

I agree that the Bush administration acted reprehensibly in Venezuela to begin with. It was the Venezuelan political elite's stupidity and greed that contributed to the rise of Chavez. However, I believe that US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has a better grip on these things now and is trying to steer US policy away from hardline unilateralism.

How does being a true friend to the United States equate to voting to close off debate on the murders taking place in Sudan?

There are, have been, and always will be abuses (interning of Japanese by Roosevelt, destruction of Vietnam by Johnson and Nixon, tolerance of segregation and Jim Crow, etc, etc) in the US and other democratic countries too. However, are these exceptions that can be challenged and changed, or the general rule that can't be questioned?

After all, it was the Reagan administration that played a huge role in bringing down the Afrikaaner regime in South Africa through sanctions in the 1980s. I never thought that would happen, myself.

I think the objective of whatever foreign policy we may have is simply to leverage our best interests and to support whatever will contribute to the kind of world we prefer to live in - you know, Miami.

And all of this belies the main question - do you want to see the Iranians with nuclear bombs? Would the world be any safer or better off?

davidson hepburn

This one really grabbed my attention and I want to commend you for your well-researched comments. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Human rights is a subject that holds everybody's attention, but I do not feel that there is a clear definition that should be adhered to by all parties. In most cases the decisions taken mostly by Western democracies are clearly discriminatory. The secretarg general of the UN realized that the Human rights Commission in Geneva is not meeting the needs of all citizens, but his efforts to changes it are being met with resistance.

2. You are right that the world is divided into regions and for the most part, regions stick together with few exceptions. Many times they do not understand the matter, but would follow decisions taken by the blocs. In many cases small countries use the abstention as a cure-all for their decisions. Many times it tuns out to be more objectionable than the NO or YES vote.

Small countries like the Bahamas rely on emotions or what other states in the region do. Many times they are absent from voting or if it is not a roll call vote do not cast a vote at all.

I clearly remember the item to declare Zionism as Racism. Without going into details, when the resolution was put to a vote, without instructiions, I decided to vote conscience on the facts that I had before me, and it turned out that Bahamas was one or the only developing countries that voted against the resolution. It could be that I was being naive, as we were only two years old at the time.

Later on lobbying became so strong that countries were sometimes forced to vote against their consciences. They had to think of economic or political fall-out from donors, etc.

Let me make one further comment. I am the chairman of the Committee on Conventions and Recommendations at UNESCO's executive board. One of the responsibilities is to deal with communications received from individuals or governments citing Human Rights abuse.There are some 28 members on this committee. Unlike the HR Commission, this committee tries to deal with issues in a conciliatory fashion. It is not judgmental.

In this way we have been able to get some governments to release prisoners, give them an opportunity to get healthcare and improve the conditions of prisons. Of course there are complaints that only certain countries are singled out for discussion.

The comittee does go out looking for cases. It presents those that are valid after scrutinizing them according to the rules and regulations of the committee. This means that any person or group has the opportunity to present a case. There is no voting and everything is decided by consensus (that is another area for discussion).

I feel that some of the foreign policy decisions that are taken by the Bahamas government smack of knee-jerk reactions to the situation or a statement to maintain regiional solidarity. Frankly, that is a good policy, but it comes a time when each country must stand up for what it believes. Who is to say that a small country cannot have a sound foreign policy?

Well, I have rambled on too long, but your column evoked some very strong feelings on this question of human rights.

larry smith

Your diplomatic skills are obviously still in top form.

I do realise that most of this stuff at the UN is strategic or tactical balance of power stuff and not to be taken entirely at face value.

However, my chief point is that the objective of whatever foreign policy we may like to have should be to leverage our best interests while supporting whatever will contribute to the kind of world we prefer to live in. Period.

I do not see how playing airy fairy international games or investing our scarce resources in China will gain more for us than dealing hard with the United States and Haiti.

I don’t see how voting to close off debate on the discussion of rights abuses in Sudan serves our interests either morally or materially. Perhaps you could explain the intricacies.

And I appreciate your story about the Zionism resolution. Congratulations. I understand that that is the only country-specific initiative that many nations will accept.

bahamianworldcitizen

I think it is time to accept the critique of the Bahamas' voting record. Do we really want to be described using the same terms as are used to describe the US-- 'exceptionalism' (the US hasn't even ratified the CEDAW or CRC!). Until the Bahamas has signed and ratified ALL 6 core human rights treaties, it will continue to abstain on Human Rights-related Resolutions and dodge these issues whether at the UN, CARICOM, Commonwealth or OAS.

By the way gentlemen, do you really have the right to point fingers at countries in the Middle East/ Western Asia?-- after all many of their constitutions grant more rights to women than are granted under our Constitution. The main reasons why we have not ratified ALL 6 core treaties is inconsistencies with our Constitution. See example below from the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Reservation: "The Government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas does not consider itself bound by the provisions of article 2(a), ... article 9, paragraph 2, ... article 16(h), ... [and] article 29, paragraph 1, of the Convention." This is classified as an ‘impermissible reservation’ according to International Law and the Vienna Convention on the Law of the Treaties (see Article 28 of the Convention). Not even Libya has such a ridiculous reservation!

As for your comment on foreign policy based on travel preferences, take the example of South Africa. We have a lot to learn from this jurisdiction. South African constitutional reform efforts since the end of apartheid are far, far ahead of what we have been able to achieve since independence. South Africa is the jewel of the African Union in many ways: non-discrimination, equality, public sector reform, cultural and religious relativism… I would encourage any foreign policy that looks beyond US ‘exceptionalism’.

Two final thoughts— Human Rights and Sudan

1. The UNESCO Board is not charged with formally addressing Human Rights violations. These are dealt with by the treaty monitoring bodies (ICCPR, ICESCR, CAT, CEDAW, CRC and CERD) in New York and Geneva. They hear individual and group petitions and form ‘general comments’ and recommendations that have come to be part of what is considered customary International Human Rights Law. As far as I recall, Jamaica is the only Caribbean country represented on one of the TMB. The Human Rights Commission (soon to be Council) is a political organisation within the UN, it does not have the same function as the TMB nor the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (I know, too many titles…)

2. The UN has be heavily criticised for its engagement in Sudan. First of all the violence is not between Muslim and Christian or Arab and Black. The violence is between Muslim and Muslim (mixed Arab/Black blood). Human rights organisations have criticised the UN for confusing the issue and not approaching humanitarian aid issues from a rights based approach (I mean they built latrines facing Makkah in the camps—can we say culturally insensitive!) Also, the ‘safe zone’ approach has caused more people to be slaughtered by Janjaweed militias than if they were spread throughout the villages (UN made the same mistake in the Balkans—sometime the UN just doesn’t get it right). So, on the Sudan vote I agree with the Bahamas’ abstention. After all thousands more people have died in the Democratic republic of Congo with no similar resolution. Could it be that there are diamonds in DROC and not Sudan? Why don’t we ask John Bull about that. Or for that matter why don’t we ask the US why it is so quiet about human rights abuses in DROC.

Rick Lowe

To paraphrase Churchill - The US is not perfect, but it beats the other countries out there.
Should we use the US inadequacies to cover our own?

bahamianworldcitizen

The Bahamas has a far better human rights record than the US. So maybe the question could be, Should the US be using the Bahamas' inadequacies to cover their own?

I'm not familiar with the Churchill quote... here's a nice quote from Shirin Ebadi (Iranian woman, Nobel Prize winner):
The concerns of human rights' advocates increase when they observe that international human rights laws are breached not only by their recognized opponents under the pretext of cultural relativity [read the 'South'], but that these principles are also violated in Western democracies [read United States], in other words countries which were themselves among the initial codifiers of the United Nations.

santa

December 14, 1981 a resolution was proposed in the United Nations General Assembly which declared that "education, work, health care, proper nourishment, national development are human rights". Notice the "proper nourishment". The resolution was approved by a vote of 135-1. The United States cast the only "No" vote. ( How can we forget.looking for someone who fills the rest)

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