By Farooque Chowdhury, Countercurrents.org
30 October, 2012
Hundreds of indigenous women and girls were murdered in Canada . To many, it’s a baffling fact.
Recently, there were proposals in the UK parliament to expand the use of secret court hearings in civil cases.
In Greece , migrants and asylum seekers are being hounded by police and right-wing extremists.
These are only a few bitter, and unbelievable to a section in broader society, facts related to human rights in the advanced capitalist world. These facts are difficult to swallow to the section that trusts moral standing of state.
Hard facts related to human rights in these advanced capitalist democratic countries accompany human rights situation in Iraq and Pakistan , countries in the fringe of the world system, but part of the system. In one of these countries, democracy, considering it as a simple commodity, has been exported/imported or is being constructed.
A dirty picture overwhelms human perception. It’s a picture of asserting power, imposing authority, calculus of competition, internal power game, failure to resolve conflicting demands, subjugation, and silencing souls dissenting.
Murders in Canada
From 1997 to 2002, there were murders and disappearances of women from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Of these victims, a disproportionate number were indigenous women. (http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/17/canada-investigate-missing-murdered-indigenous-women)
According to the Human Rights Watch, “[t]he Native Women’s Association of Canada documented 582 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada as of March 2010, with 39 percent of the disappearances and deaths occurring since 2000. The number of cases is undoubtedly higher today, but there is no data available since the government cut funding for the organization’s database and has yet to launch its own database with the capacity to track the number of cases in which the victim is indigenous.”
Citing Statistics Canada the HRW said: indigenous women are almost seven times more likely to be murdered than non-indigenous women in Canada : 5.4 indigenous women per 100,000 died due to homicide in 1997-2000 compared with 0.8 per 100,000 for non-indigenous women.
In 2011, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women announced launching inquiry on the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada . In 2008, the committee called on the Canada government “to examine the reasons for the failure to investigate the cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and to take the necessary steps to remedy the deficiencies in the system.”
There are two major government studies on the issue: (1) a 2011 report from the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, (2) a 2012 report from the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Missing Women Working Group.
Recently, the British Columbian government released the final report of the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry.
Recommendation for launching a national commission of inquiry into the issue followed the report. The recommendation was made by indigenous groups including the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the federal opposition, human rights organizations. But the Inquiry Commission’s final report failed to make the recommendation, and the conservative government has repeatedly declined to act on the recommendation.
There are allegations of limited terms of reference of the British Columbia inquiry, exclusion of community members from funding and equal participation in the inquiry process, structural flaws including both conflict of interest with inquiry staff and a lack of adequate and culturally sensitive procedural protections for vulnerable witnesses.
Incidents are not as fair as capitalist democracies demand from others – their opponents and their allies-to-be-tightened.
It’s not a short “story”.
Amnesty International reported on December 19, 2012 that UN committees on racial discrimination, prevention of torture and children’s rights found “a range” of “ongoing and serious human rights challenges,” especially for indigenous peoples in Canada . (http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1304353–canada-gets-human-rights-failing-grade-from-amnesty-international)
“By every measure, be it respect for treaty and land rights, levels of poverty, average life spans, violence against women and girls, dramatically disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration or access to government services such as housing, health care, education, water and child protection, indigenous peoples across Canada continue to face a grave human rights crisis”, said the human rights organization.
Amnesty called for new human rights agenda for Canada beginning with “a process of law reform” that will “establish a formal mechanism for transparent, effective and accountable implementation of Canada ‘s international human rights obligations.”
Further claims regarding Canada authority were made by Amnesty: “UN recommendations have too often been ignored, and the implementation process is so ‘cloaked in secrecy’ that most Canadians have no idea whether the government plans to act on them.”
Amnesty claimed the government has “dramatically undermined and rapidly dismantled” support for public policy debate in which diverse views are aired, and whistleblowers on nuclear safety, prisoner transfers in Afghanistan , etc. have been “dismissed or publicly derided by senior members of the government.”
Vital area – international trade – is also related to human rights.
Human rights have been stonewalled in international trade, said the Amnesty report. Trade deals bear no binding legal standards for the conduct of Canadian companies operating overseas.
Human rights standards are not often written into trade deals.
However, Canada rejected criticism of its human rights record. (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/12/19/canada-rejects-un-human-rights-criticism-detailed-in-amnesty-international-report/)
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister said: “We are proud of the work we’ve done to advance freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law at home and around the world.”
The spokesperson found it odd the UN was using its resources to evaluate Canada . ( National Post )
“We find it strange that the United Nations Special Rapporteurs are devoting their scarce resources to countries like Canada, instead of countries like Iran and Syria where citizens do not enjoy rights and are subject to serious human rights violations at the hands of those regimes,” it was said.
“We take strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations whether popular or not, and that is what the world can count on from Canada .”
Whatever is the fact – claims or counter-claims – that very often gets lost in the face of power, the undeniable fact is: powerful interests in economy dominate lives of many and these interests require authority on the lives of many, subjugation of many, and denial of rights of many. These many are mere parts of a big machine, just expendable, just forgettable.
Secret hearing proposal in the UK
The British parliament should reject proposals to expand the use of secret court hearings in civil cases, said HRW. (http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/18/uk-scrap-secret-courts-plan)
The parliament was scheduled to debate the measure, contained in the Justice and Security Bill.
“The widely criticized bill would widen the use of secret hearings in the civil courts on national security grounds, excluding the person affected and his or her lawyer from the courtroom. Such hearings would undermine a basic principle of justice: the ability to know and challenge the case against you. Parts of the judgments in the cases would also be kept secret. A separate section of the bill would change established jurisprudence by preventing, on grounds of national security, the disclosure of material showing UK involvement in wrongdoing by other countries.”
It’s told that the authority tries to justify the expansion of the secret hearings by claiming that it fails to fairly defend itself as relevant evidence cannot be made public on national security grounds. Consequently, the government has to settle cases that it would have won.
Counter-claim is there: A court can be asked by government to strike out any case that it assumes it can’t fairly defend. In a number of important civil actions, the government settled the cases without seeking to strike them out.
The House of Lords has already made amendments to the bill. These are to remedy the problems with expanding the use of secret hearings.
The proposal has drawn widespread opposition from the legal profession including the Law Society, the Bar Council. International law including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights require the UK to respect right to a fair and public trial.
In July 2012, the UK prime minister told parliament “that it was necessary to permit the expanded use of secret hearings because the security services were being ‘paralyzed by paperwork’ and Britain ‘s intelligence relationship with the US was being put in danger by public disclosure of US intelligence material shared with London .”
Hounded migrants in Greece
Economic and financial crisis ridden Greece is failing to respect the rights of asylum-seekers and migrants. Amnesty’s December 20, 2012 briefing Greece : The end of the road for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants , made the observation. (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/asylum-seekers-and-migrants-greece-hounded-police-operations-and-right-wing-extremists-2012-12-)
The briefing cited obstacles and challenges migrants and asylum seekers face in the country. Slow process for registration, risk of arrest in mass sweep operations and detention in overcrowded, unhygienic facilities are part of the reality the asylum seekers face.
The country’s “failure to respect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers is taking on the proportions of a humanitarian crisis.… Greece is proving itself incapable of providing even the most basic requirements of safety and shelter to the thousands of asylum seekers and migrants arriving each year,” said an Amnesty official.
According to the official the authorities “continue to systematically detain asylum-seekers and irregular migrants including unaccompanied children in breach of international standards and seem to use detention – often in appalling conditions – as a deterrent.” “The situation of unaccompanied children […] is particularly worrying.” The AI found “several children detained among adults in very poor conditions” at a detention centre. “If a place is not found at a reception centre, they are released with no shelter being provided for them.” Even, reports say, “people fleeing conflict and war” in countries such as Syria are “being pushed back to Turkey through the river Evros.”
At the same time, there has also been an appalling rise, almost on a daily basis, of incidents related to racially motivated assaults on asylum-seekers and migrants. Community centers and shops are also made targets to these types of assaults. The environment of fear and uncertainty makes victims reluctant to approach the police. It’s the “emergence” of extreme right wing, the Nazis that is targeting others.
Executions in Iraq
In war ravaged Iraq , death sentences for 28 people accused of terrorism-related offences were reportedly ratified on December 17, 2012 . In early- December, it was reported that about 40 death row prisoners were transferred to a prison, where executions are carried out. In 2012, at least 129 persons were executed. It’s the highest number of execution in a year since 2005. In previous years, hundreds were sentenced to death or death sentences were upheld by courts. (http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/iraq-urged-end-executions-amid-ratification-death-sentences-2012-12-18)
Iraq must impose an immediate moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition, said the AI. An Amnesty official termed the trials “grossly unfair” that rely on “‘confessions’ obtained under torture.”
Amnesty observed: Many of these trials failed to meet international standards for fair trials. “Confessions” obtained under torture or other ill-treatment are used as evidence against the defendants.
On December 16, Iraqi vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi and his son-in-law were sentenced to death in absentia for the fifth time in a highly politicized trial.
Yes, the death sentence was for the fifth time.
Since the death penalty was reintroduced in Iraq in 2004, the Amnesty news said, executions are being carried out extensively, and the procedures violate human rights standards.
Self-incriminating testimonies of detainees are even telecast before opening of a trial that undermine the fundamental right of defendants. Amnesty urged the Iraqi authorities to quash death sentences against four men sentenced on December 3, 2012 following the telecast of ‘confessions’ made while reportedly being tortured in pre-trial detention.
Death and torture in Pakistan
Amnesty accused the Pakistan army of widespread human rights abuses in the tribal areas adjacent to Afghanistan .
In the report The hands of cruelty: Abuses by armed forces and Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas AI said troops arbitrarily detained people for long periods without charge and with no access to due process of law. Relatives of some detainees, the report alleged, had no information about the fate of the unfortunates.
Further allegation said: Some detainees had been returned to their families or dumped in remote parts of the tribal area.
“Detainees who are released alive and their families are threatened with dire consequences if they speak publicly about their treatment in detention,” it said. Amnesty cited laws being misused by troops.
However, the Pakistan Army rejected the allegations describing the report as “a pack of lies and part of a sinister propaganda campaign against Pakistan and its armed forces.” The spokesperson said: “It is a biased report based on fabricated stories twisted to serve an agenda.” (http://www.rediff.com/news/report/human-rights-abuse-amnesty-international-slams-pak-army/20121213.htm)
Factors in action
Factors prompting states behave in the patterns revealed in the cited incidents/initiatives are search-worthy. These incidents are not expression of “mindless” functions of the states as state, a complex institution, bears “mind” of the classes that own it.
A few of these five states always try to don a decent image, and decent image is one of the veils required and used to hide coercive character of state. But, sociopolitical realities are hard to hide, and decent images are torn out into ugly pieces by urgent needs and requirements of class rule. Recently, once again, state’s face and character has been unveiled by official documents related to subverting the historic Occupy Movement in the US . ( “FBI Documents Reveal Secret Nationwide Occupy Monitoring”, Dec. 22, 2012 , http://www.justiceonline.org/commentary/fbi-files-ows.html )
Duties and responsibilities of state pulled these states into this pattern of actions/measures. Identifying the duties and responsibilities provides answer to the pattern. The duties and responsibilities, in brief, are ensuring class rule to safeguard dominating interests.
The cases of Iraq and Pakistan are totally different from the cases of Canada , UK and Greece . With geostrategic importance the two Third or Fourth World states in the first group are on the fringe of the present world system. Development of the ruling elites in these countries embraced and faced external interventions they required and cherished. The two are, at the same time, different from each other, historically and in terms of formation, interests, capital, relations and bindings.
The three states, developed capitalist, in the latter group are also different from each other. History of development of the ruling elites and problems of democracy in each of these three states are different. Challenges the ruling classes in these states facing are varying in type.
These three states with well developed ruling classes that possess vast material and intellectual resources, and a long period of experience have well organized machine and mechanism for domination and rule. Over a long period of time, the states have developed shock absorbers that can contain, accommodate, assimilate and neutralize elements and initiatives, even dreams of common persons, considered hostile to their existence.
Despite this dominating and assured position why the states are failing to ensure or acting to kill the inalienable fundamental rights to which all citizens are entitled? Is there a change in the policies and capabilities of these states? Why the change, if there is any? Why the states are devouring their moral ground by violating human rights, the act that exposes their class character although states try their utmost to veil their character of forceful imposition of their will? These and similar questions unwrap a reality charged with conflicting demands that the states fail to settle.
No Bill, Claims, Declaration, Covenant and Convention of Rights developed and penned over centuries in countries and world community makes legal oppressive actions by states. These states formally never denounce or renounce rights of citizens as states are, as Engels noted in his piece on Feurbach, “the first ideological power over man”. But, states are to actually renounce as crisis within pushes these instruments backward, and they find no other way than to tear off the pall of decency, champion of human rights, etc. It’s reaching to the limit of decency and descending to the dungeon of coercion. Political legitimacy gradually withers away by the repressive actions of states. But, states in the face of crisis find no other way but to risk the degradation of legitimacy.
An over all world map of human rights show most of the states are failing to protect the inherent right to life that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights calls to ensure. Rather people in countries find they are arbitrarily deprived of the rights.
It’s authoritarianism that denies accepting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The present world order doesn’t allow equality in dignity and rights as that endangers the foundation of the order.
Socioeconomic inequalities operating in the societies make the principles of open and natural justice ineffective and void, and trample down human rights. Character and motives, limitations and weaknesses of states get exposed as these, ruling machines, increasingly resort to violence, torture, deprive people of their inalienable rights.
Farooque Chowdhury from Dhaka freelances.