US Politicization of Human Rights Erodes Foundations of Human Rights Governance
The China Society for Human Rights Studies
Since the end of WWII, global human rights practices have repeatedly proved that rejecting the politics-oriented mentality and discussing and promoting human rights on an equal and rational basis is a major prerequisite for the international community to properly handle human rights issues and conduct exchange and cooperation in this regard. For this reason, measures taken purposely to politicize human rights issues could prove fatal to global human rights governance. This has become a fundamental consensus reached by the international community on human rights.
The term “politicization of human rights” refers to the propensity and process that actors in international relations, out of certain political motives, deal with human rights issues in an attitude of political utilitarianism to realize certain political interests. The politicization of human rights has the following patterns of manifestation: (1) Human rights issues are treated in selective rather than universal ways; (2) Human rights conditions are evaluated by double standards rather than objective standards; (3) Differences in human rights issues are dealt with through confrontation rather than dialogue; and (4) Divergences over human rights issues are resolved through unilateral coercion rather than multilateral cooperation.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) advocates the non-politicization of human rights and a universal and objective attitude toward human rights issues. The UNHRC upholds multilateralism and calls for the elimination of human rights politicization through constructive dialogue and international solidarity and cooperation. Resolution 60/251 of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) underscores “the importance of ensuring universality, objectivity and non-selectivity in consideration of human rights issues, and the elimination of double standards and politicization.” The UNHRC’s Resolution 5/1 demands that “the universal periodic review should be conducted in an objective, transparent, non-selective, constructive, non-confrontational and non-politicized manner,” and that “the principles of objectivity, non-selectivity, and the elimination of double standards and politicization should apply.” Moreover, a communication…shall be admissible, provided that it is “not manifestly politically motivated” and “not resorting to politically motivated stands contrary to the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.” The UNHRC’s Resolution 47/9 emphasizes that “human rights dialogue should be constructive and based on the principles of universality, indivisibility, objectivity, non-selectivity, non-politicization, mutual respect and equal treatment.”
However, to maintain its political interests and global hegemony, the United States has brazenly resorted to human rights politicization in the international community through such means as adopting selective and double standards and imposing unilateral coercion. Its behaviors have seriously eroded the foundation that underlies the global human rights governance, gravely threatened the international development of human rights cause, and generated outrageously destructive consequences.
I. The historical process of US politicization of human rights
Generally speaking, the US politicization of human rights can be divided into three stages. The first stage is before the 1970s when the US adopted the international human rights standards after a fashion but still snubbed or even rejected them. The second stage was from the 1970s to the end of the Cold War when the US promoted “human rights diplomacy” and used human rights as a political tool to attack the former Soviet Union. The third stage started from the end of the Cold War and has lasted ever since, during which the US has arbitrarily imposed upon other countries its own human rights values as a “soft power” and suppressed countries of different political systems in the attempt to maintain US dominant status in the world.
(I) Period I: The US snubbed and rejected international human rights
While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was in the making, the US government expressed verbal support while stressing that it should be no more than an inspiring document with no binding force. It insisted on making the articles on human rights as ambiguous as possible, strongly objected to the initiative proposed by some countries and organizations to detail those articles and the obligations to be borne by each member state. After the UDHR was adopted, the American representative said that only one article – Article 22 – applies to the US, and only one sentence in Article 22 has any value, which is that whether the UDHR could be put into practice depends on “the organization and resources of each State.”
After 1953, America’s attitude toward internationally acknowledged human rights shifted from reluctance and unwillingness to support to outright indifference. Soon after he came into power, Eisenhower announced that his administration would keep a distance from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and claimed that its domestic and foreign policies would not be bound by human rights obligations. The UN passed in 1960 the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and other measures providing moral support and political legitimacy to anti-colonist forces, which the US either voted against or simply abstained. The same happened to many other human rights treaties. The US was ambiguous about the UN’s efforts to support South Africa’s struggle against the apartheid system in the 1960s because that was at odds with its long-term strategic interests in the country. At the beginning of the Cold War, the United States, out of consideration of national security, regarded the democratizing Guatemalan government of ?rbenz as the expansion of Soviet Communist forces in the country, and finally overthrew the democratically elected government of Guatemala through two secret operations and the combination of diplomatic pressure and psychological warfare. This became a common pattern for the United States to interfere in the internal affairs of Latin American countries.