Human Rights gods with feet of clay

Many a pair of shoes is worn out, it is said, between saying and doing. Nothing exemplifies this adage better than the unspeakable way the self-appointed champions of global democracy and human rights act, when their security or economic interests are threatened.

This country, embroiled in a protracted war on terror, has never been short of big brothers proffering unsolicited advice and issuing dire warnings. Some of them have chosen to pillory it for human rights violations––quite rightly so. Its human rights record has to improve. Let there be no argument about that. Civilians must be protected at all cost.

But for the international pressure, crimes such as the massacre of 17 aid workers in Muttur would have been swept under the carpet a long time ago. Some foreign envoys in Colombo have even overstepped their diplomatic limits to assist in probes into human rights violations. A group of western diplomats drew a great deal of flak sometime ago over a meeting they had had with the members of the Presidential Commission probing the Muttur massacre and other human rights violations, as that controversial powwow was outside the mandate of the commissioners. It was considered a subtle attempt by foreign powers to interfere with the probe.

But, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or, who will guard the guardians? Powerful countries commit atrocities against civilians at will and get away with them. Nobody dares take them on. On Wednesday, the US-led forces descended on a village in a tribal region of Pakistan and massacred over 15 people including women and children. There had been no provocation and that tragedy could have been avoided if the US and its allies had acted with restraint. But, they did not care a damn as they knew Pakistan could not strike back.

The only way Pakistan could react to that heinous crime was to summon the US ambassador in Islamabad and protest. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has vehemently condemned the US raid. He has said that 'no important terrorist with high-value target' was killed and only civilians perished in the attack. The Pakistan parliament is reported to have passed a resolution condemning the attack.

Wednesday's incident is said to have ruined the prospects of the pro-US presidential front-runner in Pakistan in the run up to the election. But, the US won't be deterred. It will continue to strike wherever it wants, be it in Afghanistan or in Pakistan. Who is there to stop America?

It has been established beyond any doubt that terrorists operate from Pakistan's tribal areas to carry out attacks in Afghanistan. They have become a threat to the US-led forces battling terrorism in that country. Those terrorists are responsible for savage blasts killing scores of civilians and they must be weeded out for the Afghan democracy to take root.

It is also well known that those terrorists are backed by the tribal warlords in Pakistan and have a considerable following among civilians. But, the US and its allies can, on no grounds, justify their attack on civilians in the clutches of the terrorists. After all, that is what they keep telling the rest of the world. What if all the armies in the world battling terrorism adopt the same methods as the US-led forces in Afghanistan or Iraq? Thousands of civilians will perish in counter terror operations every day in terror-stricken countries around the world.

The international human rights groups stand exposed for their hypocrisy and impotence. So far none of them has condemned the US massacre, though they usually spring into action when smaller nations commit crimes against civilians. Is it because those organisations are wary of antagonising those who fund their human rights campaigns? They seem to know which side of their human rights bread is buttered!

What action will the UN take to protect the civilians in Pakistan's tribal areas considered a Taliban haven? They have become a human shield for the terrorists and therefore a soft target for the US-led forces. They run the risk of being the first to die in counter terror strikes, as was seen on Wednesday. They have been found guilty by suspicion and their 'execution' may be only a matter of time. And no one is capable of protecting them!

Mum's the word on the part of SAARC as well. It was only the other day that the SAARC leaders made a grand show of their cooperation in Colombo. But, they seem unable even to issue a statement condemning the US action and pledging solidarity with Pakistan. Will they do so at least belatedly?

The US is in the forefront of a human rights campaign here to protect the hapless civilians trapped in the conflict zone where war is raging. And its allies like the EU are promising economic shock therapy if the human rights situation deteriorates further. It is using the GSP Plus concession as a weapon to achieve that objective.

Although one may not endorse such coercive methods being used against a sovereign state, one cannot but appreciate the EU's concern for the human rights of Sri Lankans. If only they had the same concern for the civilians in other conflict zones living in eternal fear of being massacred by the forces of powerful nations including an EU member state hunting for the terrorists of the Occident! It will be interesting to know the reaction of the EU to the US atrocities against Pakistani civilians.

The brutal manner in which powerful nations try to protect their interests vis-à-vis terrorism or threats from other sources has demonstrated that all the human rights gods have feet of clay. They have proved that in waging war, they are no better than the so-called demons of the developing world, the only difference being that their barbarism is rarely condemned.

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