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<nettime> Dealing with state terrorism
ericbj on Fri, 27 Aug 2004 10:03:48 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Dealing with state terrorism



Since terrorism seems to be a major topic at the moment
[What causes terrorism?], perhaps one may be permitted
to look at the subject from a different angle :  How to
remove an entrenched terrorist regime?  -- the one
particularly in mind being the Rangoon military junta.

To open the issue, here is a recent newslist posting,
followed by my response to it.  There has not been a lot
of feedback from the Burma newslists, so maybe there
will be a more animated response here ?

___________________________________________

What do we mean by human rights ?

In seeking strategic alliances, must one
unreservedly approve in all matters the
position of one's allies ?

Can pressure be brought to bear on a terrorist
regime without employing either sanctions or
military force ?

Is 19th Century laissez-faire capitalism the
answer to 21st-Century Burma's problems ?

These are some of the questions raised by the
following article, to which I endeavour to
give the beginnings of a response.  

___________________________________________


>  Dear List-subscribers:
>  
>  I am sharing with you select observations regarding
>  HUMAN RIGHTS by Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank
>  professor emeritus of international law and practice at
>  Princeton University and visiting distinguished
>  professor of global studies at the University of
>  California at Santa Barbara.  (His most recent book is
>  The Great Terror War, New York: Olive Branch Press,
>  2003).  
>  
>  Sincerely, zarni
>  
>  From:  HUMAN RIGHTS BY Richard Falk, in THINK AGAIN
>  section of Foreign Policy magazine, March/April 2004,
>  pp.18-26.
>  
>  The concept of human rights is the mother's milk of the
>  international community.  Problem is, these days human
>  rights come in more flavours than coffee or soft drinks.
>  
>  Would you like the Asian, Islamic, indigenous, economic,
>  European, or U.S. version?   
>  
>  And how would you like your human rights served: with
>  sanctions, regime change, corporate window dressing, or
>  good old-fashioned moral suasion?  
>  
>  Here is a look at the most effective - and most
>  misguided - recipes for promoting human dignity around
>  the world.
>  
>  (Excerpted from the full article - compiler's remark).
>  
>  Human Rights Are Primarily About Political Freedom"
>  
>  The Answer:  NO
>  
>  Human rights should be understood as covering both
>  political and economic concerns.  It is true human
>  rights efforts have been most successful with political
>  abuses.  Yet, to create the sort of solidarity needed to
>  promote dignity of persons throughout the world, it is
>  crucial to address economic deprivations associated with
>  poverty as human rights issues.  Indeed, there are two
>  authoritative international covenants governing human
>  rights: the International Covenant on Civil and
>  Political Rights, and the International Covenant on
>  Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both adopted by
>  the United Nations in 1996.
>  
>  The United States has never ratified the second
>  covenant, and U.S. political leaders are skeptical about
>  its moral claims and status as law. But regardless of
>  such doubts and any quibbles about the wording of
>  covenants, the bottom line is that a country that fails
>  to address the basic needs of its entire population is
>  guilty of human rights violations. This approach puts a
>  lot of pressure on poor countries and the economically
>  disadvantaged in various ways. It also exerts pressure
>  on the United States and other prosperous nations that
>  practice a form of market economics that does NOT take
>  responsibility for homelessness, hunger and other
>  manifestations of poverty.  An estimated 840 million
>  people suffer from chronic hunger around the world.  At
>  the end of 2002 in the United States, there were 34.9
>  million people living in hunger or lacking sufficient
>  food, 1.3 million more than a year earlier.  A human
>  rights approach, based on morality and law, would ensure
>  every human being the basic necessities of food,
>  shelter, health care, education, and employment at least
>  to the extent of the material capabilities of a
>  particular society.  It is only by shutting out these
>  issues of economic well-being that the United States can
>  be proud of its human rights record. Indeed, given the
>  remarkable level of U.S. wealth and might, the existence
>  of such deep pockets of poverty is nothing short of a
>  human obscenity.
>  
>  "Economic Sanctions Help Improve Human Rights Worldwide"
>  
>  The Answer:  RARELY.
>  
>  If applied with the genuine backing of the world
>  community, economic sanctions can be effective, both
>  symbolically and substantively.  But such backing is
>  rare.  The case of sanctions imposed on South Africa
>  during the last stages of apartheid is a rare success
>  story, and those sanctions worked as much by
>  delegitimizing the government in Pretoria as by their
>  adverse effects on the South African economy.
>  
>  Most other instances of relying on sanctions for these
>  purposes have failed.  Between 1990 and 2003, the U.S.-
>  led U.N. economic sanctions on Iraq indiscriminately
>  killed hundreds of thousands of civilians without
>  reforming or unseating the repressive Baath Party
>  regime. Citing this disastrous humanitarian impact, two
>  widely admired U.N. administrators of the sanctions
>  program in Iraq resigned on principle in 1998 and 2000
>  respectively.  In Bosnia, half-hearted sanctions
>  directed at the Yugoslav government in Belgrade served
>  as an excuse for not taking more energetic protective
>  action on behalf of a severely abused Bosnian Muslim
>  population.  For more than 40 years, the U.S. government
>  has maintained economic sanctions against Cuba in
>  defiance of the majority of the U.N. General Assembly;
>  indeed, in recent years, only Israel and Marshall
>  Islands have backed Washington's stance.  These
>  sanctions have led to great hardships for the Cuban
>  people without contributing to an improved human rights
>  record, though they have helped successive
>  administrations in Washington court Cuban exile
>  communities that exercise political leverage in such key
>  states as Florida and New Jersey.
>  
>  Sanctions are a policy tool that should be used more
>  sparingly, and then only with the overwhelming support
>  of the international community.  If the situation is
>  serious enough to warrant sanctions, humanitarian
>  intervention might well be more appropriate, not least
>  because it has a far better chance of addressing the
>  direct causes of human suffering.  
>  
>  "Corporations Have a Moral and Legal Obligation to
>  Uphold Human Rights"
>  
>  The Answer: NOT NOW.
>  
>  Multinational corporations are essentially profit-making
>  actors without established moral obligations beyond
>  their duties to uphold the interests of their
>  shareholders.  In some cases, the constituencies of
>  corporations have grown to encompass so-called
>  "stakeholders," including those groups affected by
>  corporate activity.  And to some extent, corporations
>  have an interest in not alienating consumers and public
>  interest groups by ignoring fundamental human rights
>  concerns.  Civil society leaders can organise boycott
>  against corporations with high-profile links to human
>  rights violations, as has occurred with Shell, Nestle,
>  and others. Campaigns by these and other corporations to
>  improve their public image in relation to human rights
>  are a matter of self-interest that does not reflect the
>  existence or acceptance of a moral obligation. Of
>  course, to the extent that a human rights culture takes
>  hold, corporate officials and their shareholders will
>  likely become more receptive to moral imperatives
>  associated with treating workers decently, in accordance
>  with human rights standards.  In that respect, voluntary
>  initiatives such as the United Nations' recently
>  established "Global Compact." which certifies
>  corporations as good global citizens if they agree to
>  abide by a checklist of standards, may pay off.  And if
>  such voluntary processes go on for a long time and are
>  widely practised, they could ripen into a moral
>  obligation at some point, but that is a long way off.
>  
>  Also, virtually no legal obligations are effective
>  outside the protection of property rights such as
>  trademarks and copyrights in international business
>  activity.  Almost all human rights regulation of
>  corporate sector is based on national laws and their
>  implementation.  Some countries, especially the United
>  States, have tried to extend their standards to the
>  foreign operations of corporations headquartered in
>  their countries, but usually in the context of business
>  activity (bribes, monopolies) rather than human rights. 
>  Efforts by U.S. state courts to ban business deals in
>  response to severe human rights abuses in places such as
>  Burma have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as
>  an interference with the foreign affairs powers of the
>  Executive Branch.  To the extent the U.S. corporations
>  are legally restricted from dealing with certain foreign
>  countries for human rights reasons, such as Cuba, the
>  underlying motivation is political, reflecting
>  ideological hostility.  After all, why not restrict
>  business with other countries that engage in severe
>  violations such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?
>  
>  A framework of international legal obligations would
>  doubtless help protect human rights, especially in
>  countries with minimal or nonexistent human rights
>  regulations.  But to ensure that multinational
>  corporations from some countries would not benefit from
>  a competitive advantage, such a framework would require
>  widely endorsed regional and global treaty regimes.  And
>  given the clear benefits of foreign investment in
>  mitigating poverty, imposing international standards
>  that reduce the economic attractiveness of countries
>  with minimal regulation would, in the short term at
>  least, likely accentuate human suffering.

______________________________________________

	"The concept of human rights is the mother's
	milk of the international community.  Problem
	is, these days human rights come in more
	flavours than coffee or soft drinks.  
	Would you like the Asian, Islamic, indigenous,
	economic, European, or U.S. version?"

There is probably almost universal agreement on
FUNDAMENTAL human rights amongst the peoples of the
world as regards killing, rape, and robbery within their
own society.  It is only certain governing elites who,
because of personal vested interests, seek to imply that
murder, rape and robbery are 'Asian values'.

	"Here is a look at the most effective - and
	most misguided - recipes for promoting human
	dignity around the world."

If this article offers, as claimed, a clear, effective
remedy for Burma's problems, I have failed to perceive
it.

	"Human rights should be seen as covering both
	political and economic concerns"

The human rights that are consistently violated in Burma
(as a matter of 'government' policy and not as some
occasional excesses committed by marauding troops) are
much more basic than "political and economic concerns". 
In the context of Burma, we are faced with extrajudicial
killings and gang-rape commonly preceded and/or followed
by mutilation of the victim, torture both for the
purpose of extracting information and as a terror
tactic, indefinite imprisonment without trial, the
burning of thousands of villages and the homes of
hundreds of thousands, destruction of food supplies,
mining of paddy fields, displacement of entire
populations into concentration camps to serve as slave
labour ... a war on the people.

	"... to create the sort of solidarity needed
	to promote dignity of persons throughout the
	world, it is crucial to address economic
	deprivations associated with poverty as human
	rights issues."

Poverty in Burma has been created by open, daylight
robbery carried out by the armed forces, the so-called
government:  Wholesale theft, seizure of land and what
is on it, extorsion in the form of massive corruption
and imposition at whim of "taxes" on anything and
everything, unpaid forced labour at high-points of the
agricultural cycle.  In addition, almost all the
country's available resources go to the purchase of
military equipment.  To try to deal with this problem
without attacking the cause is merely to put more wealth
into the hands of the powerful.

	"... it is crucial to address economic
	deprivations associated with poverty as human
	rights issues ... a country that fails to
	address the basic needs of its entire
	population is guilty of human rights
	violations. This approach ... exerts pressure
	on the United States and other prosperous
	nations that practice a form of market
	economics that does NOT take responsibility
	for homelessness, hunger and other
	manifestations of poverty. ... A human rights
	approach, based on morality and law, would
	ensure every human being the basic necessities
	of food, shelter, health care, education, and
	employment at least to the extent of the
	material capabilities of a particular
	society."

True.  But the appalling failures in this domain of the
US and other Western nations should not blind one to the
terrorist behaviour of the Rangoon junta, which does not
merely "fail to address the basic needs of its entire
population", it actively deprives people of the means to
meet their basic needs.  

Certainly fundamental human rights should be guaranteed
under international law -- they are already, in some
rudimentary degree, e.g. the Convention on Genocide.

Now what is supposed to happen when the law is
transgressed ?  Why, the international community
imposes sanctions, of course.  Which could involve the
use of armed force.  It is precisely because governments
do not want trouble and expense (except when they see it
as being in their own direct interest) that
international criminal law, rudimentary as it is, is
rarely enforced, and consequently frequently broken.
The world will have to learn to do better.

[One should perhaps add that there are no longer
"particular societies" when it comes to economics.
Western economics has created both a 'global village'
and global poverty, so poverty should not just be the
concern of national governments, as Professor Falk seems
to imply]

	"The case of [economic] sanctions imposed on
	South Africa during the last stages of
	apartheid is a rare success story, and those
	sanctions worked as much by delegitimizing the
	government in Pretoria as by their adverse
	effects on the South African economy.  Most
	other instances of relying on sanctions for
	these purposes have failed."

The whole purpose of sanctions is that they are one
valuable instrument in a tool-kit for exerting pressure
on a regime, both directly and indirectly.  They can
serve to weaken the regime financially, which may, for
instance, weaken it militarily (as with Iraq), help
promote popular discontent, leading to resistance (as in
Serbia).  Usually sanctions are not used for promoting
human rights, as these figure low on foreign policy
agenda, albeit they may be used as a 'smokescreen' to
conceal the real motives.  Sanctions have been used with
some success against Libya and against the former USSR. 
An early example of ineffective sanctions were those
against Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia in 1936.
Sanctions, even when weak and ineffective, as with those
imposed by the EU on Burma, can be a means of expressing
displeasure and making an issue out of something that
would otherwise be a total non-issue (e.g. bickering
with ASEAN over the ASEM meeting, which helps to
increase regional concern for Burma, rather than letting
it be swept wholly under the carpet)

Those who reject sanctions might gain more support if they
could spell out in detail how they propose to replace them.

	"Between 1990 and 2003, the U.S.-led U.N.
	economic sanctions on Iraq indiscriminately
	killed hundreds of thousands of civilians ..."

On my understanding of things, this is not correct. The
U.N. oil-embargo permitted Iraq sufficient oil sales for
the revenues to feed its population and maintain
essential services.  Moreover the regime sold a lot more
oil than permitted, exporting it as contraband, via
Syria for instance.  However the oil revenues went
mainly to military expenditure and into the private bank
accounts of members of the regime.  It was therefore the
regime that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians,
just as surely as the Rangoon regime kills Karen and
Shan etc villagers with its scorched earth policy.

	"Sanctions are a policy tool that should be
	used more sparingly, and then only with the
	overwhelming support of the international
	community."

It is desirable and ideal to have "the overwhelming
support of the international community".  However if you
see a person being assaulted, their life in danger
perhaps, must you await the support of the crowd before
doing anything ?  [in reality, and I know this from
seeing it, most people in a crowd will look the other way: 
they don't want to be involved]

	"If the situation is serious enough to warrant
	sanctions, humanitarian intervention might
	well be more appropriate, not least because it
	has a far better chance of addressing the
	direct causes of human suffering."  

Humanitarian intervention, for those most in need of it
in Burma, means armed intervention.  Bravo for
suggesting it !  Moreover the direct cause of human
suffering is incontrovertibly the military regime.  Far
better to eliminate the cause rather than try to
palliate its morbid effects.

	"Corporations Have a Moral and Legal Obligation
	to Uphold Human Rights ? -- The Answer: NOT NOW.
	Multinational corporations are essentially
	profit-making actors without established moral
	obligations beyond their duties to uphold the
	interests of their shareholders."

Thanks for reminding us.  However corporations are made
up of individuals, who have moral responsibilities to
fellow human beings, irrespective of their race, their
creed, or the corner of the world they happen to
inhabit.  Dare one suggest that these individuals are
also liable in law for crimes against humanity, which
would include, for example, complicity in genocide?  As
the Nuremburg trials made clear, it is no defence to say
that one was carrying out orders (or company policy for
the betterment of the shareholders). 

	"Of course, to the extent that a human rights
	culture takes hold, corporate officials and
	their shareholders will likely become more
	receptive to moral imperatives associated with
	treating workers decently, in accordance with
	human rights standards.  In that respect,
	voluntary initiatives such as the United
	Nations' recently established "Global
	Compact." which certifies corporations as good
	global citizens if they agree to abide by a
	checklist of standards, may pay off.  And if
	such voluntary processes go on for a long time
	and are widely practised, they could ripen
	into a moral obligation at some point, but
	that is a long way off."

So the decision as to whether or not to become involved
as an accessory to genocide, torture, gang-rape, mass
murder, incendiarism of villages etc is to be 
VOLUNTARY ???  
-- eventually, to "ripen into a moral obligation ...
that is a long way off".  The victims will doubtless be
thrilled to hear this !  What century are we living in ?
Is this the age of Genghis Khan ?

	"Also virtually no legal obligations are
	effective outside the protection of property
	rights such as trademarks and copyrights in
	international business activity."

What, one wonders, is Richard Falk, in his no doubt
influential capacity as professor emeritus of
international law and practice at Princeton University,
doing to change this highly unsatisfactory state of
affairs ?

	"To the extent the U.S. corporations are
	legally restricted from dealing with certain
	foreign countries for human rights reasons,
	such as Cuba, the underlying motivation is
	political, reflecting ideological hostility.
	After all, why not restrict business with
	other countries that engage in severe
	violations such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?"

One should try to be aware of the reasons a government
engages in a particular policy, but the aim of the
Burmese ethnodemocratic movement must be to find allies
wherever it can.  By all means look a gift horse in the
mouth, but not when the donor is watching.  Churchill, a
life-long opponent of communism, did not hesitate to
sign an alliance with Stalin, nor to give the USSR very
substantial aid, to keep it in the war -- recognising
that Hitler was the more immediate threat to his
country.


	"And given the clear benefits of foreign
	investment in mitigating poverty, imposing
	international standards that reduce the
	economic attractiveness of countries with
	minimal regulation would, in the short term at
	least, likely accentuate human suffering."

Here he says it all !!!  
The return to 19th century laissez-faire capitalism.  
The global economy, for all the trinkets and waste it
produces, has caused real poverty (hunger and
homelessness) on a scale never before known, as
Professor Falk tacitly admits. Foreign capital is by no
means always an unmitigated blessing for ordinary
people, most especially so in the absence of democratic
controls.  It commonly makes those in power much
wealthier, and more powerful.  And lends them an aura of
respectability.









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