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Diplomacy: Fig Leaf for Inaction?

By       Message WILLIAM FISHER     Permalink
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During his presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama emphasized negotiations rather than military action. The Republicans ridiculed his focus on diplomacy as naïve,   "Strong countries and strong presidents meet and talk with our adversaries," Obama said during an August 19 debate. "We shouldn't be afraid to do so. We've tried the other way. It didn't work."

Candidate Obama argued that the United States had to put diplomacy at the forefront of American foreign policy. But today a leading civil rights organization is charging that one aspect of diplomacy -"the language of "dialogue' and "cooperation' -" is little understood, rarely reported on, and is being used by governments throughout the world as a fig leaf to conceal their tacit acceptance of egregious human rights abuses.

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"The ritualistic support of "dialogue' and "cooperation' with repressive governments is too often an excuse for doing nothing about human rights," says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

His remarks come as the organization released its "World Report 2011," a 649-page summary of human rights issues and practices in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.

"Too many governments are accepting the rationalizations and subterfuges of repressive governments, replacing pressure to respect human rights with softer approaches such as private "dialogue' and cooperation'.... Instead of standing up firmly against abusive leaders," many governments "adopt policies that do not generate pressure for change."

The report was particularly critical of the United Nations, the European Union and the United States of America.

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The famed eloquence of US President Barack Obama "has sometimes eluded him when it comes to defending human rights," the report says. It cites as examples bilateral contexts with China, India, and Indonesia.

Criticism in the report is not limited to foreign policy. For example, it says that the United States "sets a dubious world record with 2,574 minors serving life sentences at the time the report was written."

It says Obama has failed to insist that the various agencies of the US government, such as the Defense Department and various embassies, convey strong human rights messages consistently -- a problem, for example, in Egypt, Indonesia, and Bahrain.

The report notes that Obama "increased his focus on human rights in his second year in office, but his eloquent statements have not always been followed by concrete actions. Nor has he insisted that the various US government agencies convey strong human rights messages consistently, with the result that the Defense Department and various US embassies - in Egypt, Indonesia, and Bahrain, for example - often deliver divergent messages."

The report charges that the Obama administration in its first year "simply ignored the human rights conditions on the transfer of military aid to Mexico, under the Merida Initiative, even though Mexico had done nothing as required toward prosecuting abusive military officials in civilian courts."

In its second year, the report says, the administration "did withhold a small fraction of funding, it once again certified -"despite clear evidence to the contrary -"that Mexico was meeting Merida's human rights requirements."

"The US also signed a funding compact with Jordan under the Millennium Challenge Corporation even though Jordan had failed to improve its failing grades on the MCC's benchmarks for political rights and civil liberties," according to HRW.

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A similar dynamic is at play in China, where Western governments seek economic opportunity as well as cooperation on a range of global and regional issues. For example, in its first year in office, the Obama administration seemed determined to downplay any issue, such as human rights, that might raise tensions in the US-China relationship.

President Obama deferred meeting with the Dalai Lama until after his trip to China and refused to meet with Chinese civil society groups during the trip, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that human rights "can't interfere" with other US interests in China.

The report declares that Obama's efforts to ingratiate himself with Chinese President Hu Jintao" gained nothing discernible while it reinforced China's view of the US as a declining power."

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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)

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