Russia’s Human Rights Joke

As many readers know, Russia decided to play a bit of a gag by releasing a scathing “human rights report” aimed at criticizing the United States over Guatanamo and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while leaving aside anything having to do with Russia, China, or any other authoritarian regimes that are known as the usual suspects.  The point is clear – of course there are some staggering violations committed by the US, but it’s not like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch has ever left them off the hook.  The argument always comes down to the claim of double standards, and Moscow’s wish that somehow a crime against humanity committed in one place disqualifies a similar crime elsewhere.

Taking on the mocking report with some level of sincere response, the Freedom House blog delves into these arguments:

At the root of this difficulty is the fact that the U.S. and other democratic governments are genuinely interested in promoting human rights as a core value. They criticize the performance of other states, but they also welcome such criticism on their own soil as part of democracy’s self-corrective system of checks and balances. While they too occasionally let slip flaws and inaccuracies, the U.S. State Department and an array of democracy-based civil society groups have been producing thorough, methodologically coherent human rights reports on virtually every country in the world for many decades, displaying an authentic commitment to their missions.

By contrast, authoritarian regimes like China’s and Russia’s see all human rights discourse as yet another weapon in an amoral, tooth-and-nail competition, applying the lessons of their cutthroat internal politics to the realm of international relations. For these jaded, paranoid operators, domestic human rights activists are threats to stability, perhaps deployed as agents of foreign governments, and they are dealt with accordingly. To the extent that the Chinese and Russian regimes still have clear ideologies, they favor the interests of the state and ruling elites over the rights of individuals, making any foray into the language of human rights disingenuous, and possibly dangerous. When authoritarians produce reports like these, they are in effect playing with fire, which may explain why the documents are so rare, and so half-hearted.