Caleb T. Maupin
EDITED BY PATRICE GREANVILLE
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Dispatch dateline: 15 April 2021
While the US claims to be benevolent, championing the human rights of all, the selective nature and biased emphasis of reports issued by the United States is widely acknowledged...It is clear that the United States routinely weaponizes human rights for its own purposes.
Many observers say that Human Rights Reports from the US State Department lack objectivity and suffer from serious shortcomings in terms of accuracy in their data, old information is repeated and not updated, claims are not fact-checked, etc.
Three points must be raised in regards to the recent US Human Rights Report on Cambodia:
First, Cambodia’s current political climate is tainted by the extreme damage the country endured from US bombing. For example, at the time of the bombing, 1972-1974, the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded a $274 million loan to Cambodia in order to purchase U.S. cotton, rice and flour. The Lon Nol regime was considered to be an ally of the United States in the war to stem the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. This debt still hangs over Cambodia today.
At the same time Cambodia was running up debt purchasing US agricultural products, the U.S. dropped 2.75 million tons of bombs on more than 113,000 Cambodian sites. The damage to the population and infrastructure of the already impoverished country was massive. Estimates for the number of Cambodians who lost their lives range from 5,000 to more than half a million. Elizabeth Becker, a former New York Times journalist who witnessed the bombing campaign and wrote the book, "When The War Was Over" said and wrote; “We have not acknowledged the damage we've done to that country, the enormous damage. So the idea that we're now asking them to pay for a small bit of food aid is crazy. That the United States has to acknowledge the - in my book, you acknowledge the damage you've done and you make true reparations, which we haven't.”
The U.S. government has never accepted legal responsibility for the tremendous damage it inflicted on civilians and Cambodia with the bombing, and the current political situation in the country cannot be taken out of context. Cambodia’s politics and history have been shaped by the massive destruction inflicted by the United States. However, US Human rights report does not acknowledge the lingering political and economic impact of so much destruction in the country. No aspect of Cambodian society was unaffected, and analysis that leaves out this key detail is clearly very shallow.
Secondly, references to discrimination in the report are certainly tainted with hypocrisy as Anti-Chinese and Anti-Asian hate crimes are rising in the United States. Elderly Asian Americans carry whistles with them now as they walk the streets, so they can raise the alarm if they are attacked. Asian-American neighborhoods have formed community watches and patrols because the police have not been effective in stopping the wave of senseless violence and hate crimes. If the fully developed and industrialized United States has such difficulties with ethnic discrimination, are we to be shocked that such problems affect Cambodia also?
Third, the Report does not take into account the peculiar situation of Cambodia. Cambodia, like every country, is unique. The various nationalities and ethnic groups of the country do not exist in a vacuum, and the unique history of the country must be taken into account when assessing current events. The report speaks of ongoing problems in the country between different groups as if they arose from thin air, or in a vacuum. However, context is vitally important when discussing such issues.
It must be recognized that the tone and content of human rights reports issued by the United States tends to change based on the relationship countries have with the US government. While the US claims to be benevolent, championing the human rights of all, the selective nature and biased emphasis of reports issued by the United States is widely acknowledged.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stated "Human rights must never be a vehicle for double standards or a means to pursue hidden agendas,” but it is clear that the United States routinely weaponizes human rights for its own purposes. Impoverished countries that assert their independence face more scrutiny than US aligned countries, or countries with a higher level of development.
When it comes to Cambodia, there have been two schools of thought about how it should be treated. Some State Department officials view Cambodia as a country that the US should strive to have good relations with, as with all countries. Other officials view Cambodia as a bargaining chip or pawn in a new cold war. The recent shift in rhetoric regarding Cambodia reminds us of the talk of “domino theory” during the Cold War. The disastrous consequences of such rhetoric, especially in this region, should be remembered.
The image the USA presents is one of a country that always respect human rights. However, the record of the United States around the world tells a different story. Many will recall the various massacres, bombing of civilians, torture, and infliction of economic suffering US leaders have perpetrated around the world in the hopes of forcing countries to submit.
US diplomacy has often held a dual nature. Sometimes US officials seem to recognize the need for cooperation, peaceful resolution of conflicts and recognition of self-determination as the right of all peoples. In other instances, a blatantly self-serving, antagonistic, and interventionist perspective prevails, in which US leaders act unilaterally and blatantly disregard the rights of other countries. Current US foreign policy seems to be a confused mixture of these two trends.
In 2018, the United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council. It is unclear if the new administration intends to rejoin it. For the United States to withdraw from this key international body and still urge the world to follow the UN, and still present itself as a bastion of human rights, reeks of hypocrisy.
Rather that criticizing other countries, the United States should work to solve its own problems. Furthermore, in the international arena, actions speak far louder than words. Cooperating with countries on the basis of win-win development is a far more effective means of influencing their policies than issuing loud condemnations.
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