Human rights are deemed as the sacrosanct ideal in international affairs, and any transgressions of human rights need to be redressed in line with international norms. The inalienable nature of human rights has been enshrined through a string of treaties, conventions, and compacts. While human rights have been foregrounded in international affairs, however, human rights principles are derogated across the world on the altar of wanton violence.
The United States is considered the apostle of human rights in the international context and deems itself as the custodian of safeguarding human rights across the world. The United States claims itself as the most vociferous critic of the states that violate human rights and seeks to restore human rights with proselytizing zeal in the far-flung countries. The history, however, suggests that the pledges of the United States to human rights are vacuous and devoid of substance. Human rights have been subordinated to broader U.S. geostrategic aims, and human rights have only been directed toward U.S. adversaries to leverage the sanctity of human rights to malign its adversaries.
The commitment of the United States to human rights sounds hollow. The domestic situation of the United States is rife with violations of human rights. Although the United States vigorously clamors for global human rights, the human rights situation of the U.S. lies in shambles, with a widespread violation and deep-ingrained fissures among the various racial and cultural groups, disrupting the fabric of the multicultural society. The rights of migrants and Muslims are undermined in the United States, marginalizing the communities, and thus stifling dissent to the establishment. The historical injustices wrought against the native still evident in the lingering crevices between the white and black people in the United States. Furthermore, the lax gun control laws allow rampant exploitation of guns, prejudicing public safety. This was evident in the recent escalation of Gun violence in the United States.
The United States remains one of the chief exporters of arms and ammunition, inciting conflicts across the world and cashing on the cornucopia of arms sales. The political economy of arms exerts decisive control over the foreign policy decisions of the United States, thus blurring the lines between idealistic intervention and convenient arm export bonanza. Despite U.S.’s expressed commitment to international peace and security, the arms industry flourishes unabated in the country, thus triggering and feeding conflicts across the world.
The contribution of the United States in safeguarding global human rights is selective. United States “cherry-pick” crises to intervene, and intervention is leveraged to protect the geostrategic interests of the United States. While the United States overlooks gross violation of human rights in Palestine and is resolute in its support of the Israeli authorities, however any trivial human rights issues in adversary nations raise hackles in the United States, invoking an exaggerated response. Oftentimes, the issues occurring in third-world countries are catastrophized in a manner to serve the interests of the United States. Besides, the media framing effects of Western news media e.g. BBC, and CNN, significantly distort the issues, thus triggering an inordinate response from the United States.
The democratic summits in the previous year demonstrate the height of the instrumental application of human rights. The lists of invitees were riddled with inconsistencies. While some autocracies joined the summit, other countries with long-term democratic credentials had been barred from entry.
Shortly afterward, sanctions had been slapped on Bangladesh on account of alleged human rights violations. The imposition of sanction was questionable as there was no documented argument offered by the United States, rather the decision was influenced by the flawed and exaggerated reports of obscure research organizations. While the U.S. continues its global policing under the pretext of its self-imposed guardianship, the domestic human rights situation of the country is shambled. Due to U.S.’s excessive preoccupation with an international order, the United States overlooks festering fissures in its own country with blatant manifestations.
Moreover, the U.S. has weaponized “human rights” as a tool to exert dominance in the international realm. This leads the U.S. to “cherry-pick” countries based on its geostrategic interests, and thus human rights are only reduced to a convenient strategic tool to subdue the adversaries. This strategic exploitation of human rights overlooks the gross human rights violations in its own country. The strategic usage of human rights thrives on “shaming” the allegedly errant countries. However, the selective usage of the model laid bare the contradiction as wars of human rights is invariably waged to promote U.S. interests through maligning adversaries or pressurizing neutrals. The contradictory and convenient role of the U.S. as a guardian of human rights is not viable, as creeping violations continue to undermine human rights in the United States.
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Mehjabin Maliha Hossain is an international affairs researcher and pursuing her doctoral studies at National University of Singapore (NUS). Her doctoral thesis concerns the international dimensions of the Rohingya crisis.