The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Is HRW really being inconsistent?

Human Rights Watch has recently criticised abuses by the Iraqi government.
Several postings have asked why HRW ignores the sanctions and bombing, if
it's so keen on human rights. I find this question disingenuous. First,
human rights organisations frequently confine themselves to abuses by a
state inside its 'own' territory; this is why HRW can, without
inconsistency, condemn the Russian action in Chechnya. If Turkey now
invaded another part of the Russian Caucasus, we would not expect HRW to
mute its criticisms of Russia.  Second, war on another state and its
effect on civilians are not normally the concern of human rights
organisations, unless there is outright occupation; I imagine this is
because Rights were conceived historically as allowing claims against
one's 'own' government and enforced in national courts.  In support of
this reading, the International Declaration of Human Rights notes only
that "Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent
*national* tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him
by the constitution or by law" (my emphasis). Difficult to see how a
person might seek a remedy against Britain for violating a right he may
not even have in Iraq.

It is in our interests to keep the definition of human rights narrow; once
they have expanded, like the International Declaration ragbag, to include
both the lofty and the occasional - the right to life; the right to take
part in scientific development - then human rights become the rhetorical
flourish of speechmakers and convention drafters, and not a list of
minimal demands that any person can expect irrespective of the complexion
of their government. In this regard, we can't expect HRW to campaign for
the right of Iraqis not to get dysentery as a result of shortages caused
by Tony Blair. That's our job instead.

J Vernon

This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
For removal from list, email
Full archive and list instructions are available from the CASI website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]