In an introductory essay to the 2009 Human Rights Watch Report, Kenneth Roth (Executive Director of Human Rights Watch) argues that Governments' respect for human rights should not only by measured by their standards regarding the protection of their own people but also by the way they defend human rights in relations with other countries.
He argues that the world faces a situation where countries with rather poor human rights records lead the inter-governmental human rights agenda resulting in the actual defection of standards hiding behind claims for sovereignty, non-interference or Southern solidarity. Their activities have deeply compromised the activity of the UN Human Rights Council and other institutions.
Governments which traditionally cared about human rights have largely abandoned the field or are sidelined in UN venues and the Security Council. For the US, this was a consequence of the fight against terrorism and the negative human rights record of the Bush administration.
The EU, says the aurthor, often fights alone, which was successful on few occasions like the Russia-Georgia conflict or Eastern Chad . However it misses opportunities to protect human rights more broadly in other places of the world.
"EU diplomats spend so much time negotiating a minutely detailed consensus among themselves […], that by the time they reach agreement among all 27 member states, they are exhausted, with no energy or flexibility to fashion a consensus among other potential allies. To avoid restarting the painstaking process of building a new EU consensus, European diplomats must avoid genuine give-and-take and instead try to convince others to accept the agreed-upon EU position without amendment."
Furthermore, the EU's weak stances towards human rights violations by the Bush administration lead to accusations that it applies double standards.
Nonetheless the EU and the US are not the only countries protecting human rights. They find strong support in some governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Roth calls on the human rights defending governments in the West to return to a practice where they do what they preach. He furthermore calls for them to reach out to Southern countries with progressive human rights positions and commit, with them, to fight violations abroad. Last but not least, he calls on progressive Southern nations to break with the 'bloc' mentality by which they vote with their own region although they hold different views.
The 19th Human Rights Watch Report is an annual review of human rights practices. It summarizes key human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.
by Martin Behrens
Listen also the audio commentaries regarding the situation of some selected countries.
Sign up for the Euforic human rights or democratisation newsfeeds.