Human Rights in an Era of Carrots and Sticks

The Obama administration has exempted Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sudan and Yemen. These countries will no longer be subject to a 2008 law, which suspends American financial and military aid to countries that allow child soldiers. Human rights groups were taken by surprise and registered mild complaints.

Before I condemn this decision, let me first give the government's reasons. Yemen and Chad are fighting Al Qaeda and need these kids to fight in the war on terror. In the Sudan, with an important election looming, Bashir, the Prime Minister, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The opposing army in the south of Sudan, who may win independence, the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has a couple thousand kids in its military prepared for the coming election. The SPLA may need them if the election goes badly or not at all. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where so many thousands of rapes are occurring, they simply need their soldiers, young or old.

Another exception is being discussed in the State Department. This one to give Prime Minister Bashir protection from prosecution by the ICC if he allows a good and free election to occur in the southern part of Sudan where his government's human rights abuses have been documented by human rights groups and the press. Would this exemption be wise as well? After all, many, including the Holocaust Museum, were calling his government's human rights abuses genocide?

These exemptions illustrate that the human rights community is at a low point. After 9/11, the American government used renditions to move people, to hold people without trial, to torture and yes to kill people in a clearly immoral war. Despite these abuses, there was no major uproar in the USA close to the scale of the millions of marchers who took to the streets in England. Even with the new administration, no higher ups were prosecuted and Gitmo still stands as a testament to the folly of that war. The single standard for human rights, so well used against the Soviet Union has dropped out of usage. Right now, drone strikes are occurring in at least four countries: Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. Does any one ask or care to find out how many innocent people have died in these attacks?

As I have often repeated, dozens of countries in the world are pursuing and prosecuting their human rights abusers. Why are there no prosecutions for torture of Bush/ Cheney/Rumsfeld period? The world is waiting for that and both we and they know it is necessary even if we do not do it. Eric Holder prefers carrots and sticks, mostly carrots though. The ICC is doing a good job within its narrow scope and of course does not have the USA in its inner supporters. Taking Bashir off of the docket of the ICC would be a big move. Would it fit the idea of a single standard for human rights? I doubt it.

Going back to child soldiers, is the U.S.'s exemption not an encouragement to the Burma military that has thousands of child soldiers? Burma's military would claim that they too need to use carrots and sticks, mostly sticks. They could claim that their child soldiers are necessary for another year to fight their "insurgents'. Could Than Shwe, head of Burma's ruling junta, then appeal to the ICC if he is found to be a guilty of war crimes as well? Need he only allow an election to go forward in order to gain this exemption? His fight against the ethnic people of Burma is beginning to look like it adds up to crimes against humanity and the proof is coming from scholars on the matter. The Burmese would not want an exemption for him, I would guess.

Human rights groups, old and new, need to re-rally themselves and call for a single standard for human rights. Some things might be sacred. Like the body of a woman. Like a child getting appropriate protection until 18. No torture or Genocide without prosecution by the ICC. Should torture continue in this century like it was used in the last century? Can we eliminate this one terrible practice of government?

An election for the people of south Sudan is important and necessary but do we have to give up on the ICC for the dictator of Sudan to get there? Has this been thought through? Should the United States exempt these four countries so they can be stronger against Al Qaeda? Do kids in the army really stop Al Qaeda in Chad and Yemen? I think not. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a lost ship in the night due to a weak and corrupt government and the same goes for its army. Women are being abused at the speed of light. Should not the African Union or the United Nations send in more troops to protect these women instead of asking kids in uniform to do it? Our army in Iraq and Afghanistan has a hard time fighting Al Qaeda. Can we expect child soldiers to do it? These exemptions look inane and do not reach the level of reasonableness.