DANIEL SCHATZ: WHO EILL HELP THE REAL VICTIMS?
Freedom House’s Freedom in the World survey showcases an alarming decline in freedom, democracy and respect for human rights around the world for a fifth consecutive year. Only 60% of the world’s 194 countries and 14 territories can be defined as democracies with respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms.
While universal human rights are trampled upon in dictatorships as North Korea, Iran, Syria, Libya and China, the European foreign policy debate is dominated by Israel’s blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza and the US-led war against international terrorism.
Flotillas to Gaza receive massive publicity in the European press, despite the fact that the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip is open and the UN secretary general calling the campaign “an unnecessary provocation.”
No flotillas are sailing towards Damascus and Teheran, despite the fact that Amnesty reported some 1,400 deaths in the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime, as well as rape and torture of children. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran has executed 175 people this year, including women, children and homosexuals by public hanging and stoning.
Calls for a boycott of China are rarely issued in the European debate, although the communist regime in Beijing occupies Tibet and accounts for two thirds of the world’s executions. No fly-ins head to Atatürk International Airport, despite the fact that Turkey illegally occupies Northern Cyprus and commits systematic human rights violations in the Kurdish territories.
Elsewhere, very few European writers and cultural figures condemn the Castro regime, despite the fact that Cuba has forced 18 dissident journalists into exile this year.
The one-sidedness of the European foreign policy debate is clearly exemplified in the case of North Korea, one of the world’s worst human rights abusers according to Amnesty. A recently publicized UN report charged that some 3.5 million of the country’s 24 million inhabitants suffer from acute food shortages as result of the totalitarian regime’s policies.
Self-styled peace activists
Pyongyang has established a system of prison camps throughout the country where 200,000 dissidents are subjected to systematic torture and starvation. Forced labor guarantees that no detainees are strong enough to rebel; attempts to escape are punished with torture and execution.
Very few European campaigns are initiated in support of the North Korean people. This selective engagement can be explained by the fact that countries like North Korea don’t generate widespread media coverage or political debate. More significantly, the problems don’t fit into the dominant European foreign policy discourse, which discriminates between moral principles in the name of biased political agendas.
If the Gaza flotilla was motivated by altruistic humanism, we would have seen some boats setting sail for Benghazi, loaded with medicine and humanitarian aid. Ships with oppositional literature and laptops would have done wonders for the democratic opposition in Havana and Tehran. A universal commitment to the promotion of human rights would have prompted European public engagement against the mass starvation and torture in North Korea.
Next time self-styled European human rights and peace activists in Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland or Spain issue declarations in the name of humanism while condemning the only democracy in the Middle East, you should think twice; specifically when these statements are motivated by a questionable commitment to the promotion of democracy and human rights in all countries of the world.
Daniel Schatz is a Political Scientist and Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Europe Center
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