Our Human Rights Wasteland

The U.S. State Department recently released its annual report on human rights. There was nothing to celebrate. It was a testament to the wasteland where human rights advocacy now resides. In page after page the lengthy volume catalogs “allegations” and “reports” of violations of a constantly expanding list of what are characterized as basic rights, with heavy attention to those issues that attract the most attention in social media. Ruthless, jack-booted campaigns of genocide are eclipsed, for example, by vastly more voluminous reporting of “societal discrimination” in 198 countries.

The report could be Exhibit A in explaining Washington’s slipping reputation among countries that have been our traditional allies. The Biden administration pledged to make human rights a centerpiece of its foreign policy and the report is the scripture from which its new scolding foreign policy is preached. It makes no effort to distinguish fundamental rights of liberty from a rapidly growing list of “rights” now numbering in the scores, which are not fundamental at all but just new claims on the state in support of social-engineering agenda. A policy which embraces everything eventually embraces nothing.

The insidious initiative by which Beijing has seized nearly a million Tibetan children from the age of four to place them in Chinese boarding schools to be purged of all things Tibetan, for example, gets four brief paragraphs, while hundreds of pages highlight infractions against “internet freedom,” “food insecurity,” and other “societal abuses.” The State Department report seems to be dedicated to listing as many inequities as possible, not highlighting the most significant, as if its goal was volume, not substance. The inhuman, merciless repressions of Tibetans and Uyghurs, the most egregious human rights violations of recent decades, are drowned out by a flood of offences related to newly declared “rights.” Most, perhaps all of these, deserve some level of attention. They do not justify the moralistic lectures that now pass as American foreign policy.

The United States government, once the steadfast human rights leader on the global stage, boasts of the 2021 passage of the Xinjiang forced labor law as proof of its commitment to the human rights cause. With over a million Uyghurs confined in labor and “reeducation” camps, many forced to produce commercial materials integrated into exports for the West, the new law represented a fertile opportunity for taking enforcement to a new level by blocking tainted Chinese goods. Nearly two years later the government’s own enforcement scorecard reveals that its primary enforcement focus has not been China, the express target of the law, but rather Vietnam and Malaysia. Actions against imports from China are a distant third. Transshipments through third-party countries are a genuine concern, but billions in slave labor goods still flow unimpeded from western China.

In State’s voluminous commentary the world’s single greatest violator of human rights, the perpetrator of decades-long genocide, gets the lightest of touches. The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights toured China last year and returned quoting the Chinese Communist Party’s own sound bites in defense of its repression in western China. When our Secretary of State tried to confront the Chinese at his now infamous meeting in Alaska, his Chinese counterpart said the United States had no standing to complain because of its own human rights violations in recent years; he answered with what was essentially an apology. One of his recent predecessors declared that she had “bigger issues” with China than human rights. What issues are bigger than fundamental human rights?

Once, staunch allies could be found among global enterprises and large NGOs. No longer. The leaders of our big tech companies stammer or turn away when challenged about the forced labor content of their products, often diverting attention by boasting of slick sustainability reports. With a few courageous exceptions, Hollywood producers carefully shape their scripts, settings, and casts to appease Beijing’s Office of Propaganda, which controls access to the lucrative Chinese movie market. Major league sports censor players who try to raise their voice to support fundamental freedoms, shamefully preferring money over morality. The globalists of Davos and the World Economic Forum tell us to “go easy” on North Korea, Iran, and China and continue to ignore global reality, pretending, despite decades of lessons to the contrary, that negotiating international accords will solve the issues.

Protecting fundamental rights was a cornerstone of American foreign policy for decades. Today any strategy seems lost in the mists of Foggy Bottom. We don’t have human rights strategists, we have human rights clerks. Their search for new “violations” brings to mind the old jest about the man looking for a lost wallet under a streetlight because where he dropped it is too dark -- they ignore the darkness of the world’s most severe violations and devote themselves to wherever the light of media shines. That media once provided admirable leadership in spotlighting grievous practices around the planet. Today serious investigative reporting is difficult to find, yet our policy pundits are always eager to shout about whatever new right is “trending.” If we hear about human rights, it is according to the loudest scripts on social media. But those who craft those scripts don’t have values, they have algorithms.

Eliot Pattison, author of nineteen novels, earned the Art of Freedom award from Tibet House for his work in spotlighting human rights issues in China through his ten-volume Skull Mantra series.

Image: Pixabay - GDJ

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