One of the most insidious effects of Covid-19 has been its worsening of contempt for human rights.
Interviews with Dr. Gregory Stanton, Genocide Watch, and Dr. Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, Laurier U. Canada
Karachi Express Tribune
Article by Hammad Sarfraz
June 05, 2021
As the novel coronavirus shaped into one of the most daunting crises the world has faced, it exposed and exacerbated pre-existing contempt for human rights.
The already pitiable state of inequalities and injustices around the world has been made worse by the global health crisis which has given governments and leaders unprecedented authority to control and even trample the basic rights of their citizens – all in the name of public safety.
Experts who have decades of experience in defending human rights warn that this trend will fuel the uncontrollable rise of authoritarianism, right-wing politics, extremism, racism, and indeed even the revival of fascism. Speaking from Washington DC, the United States and Hamilton, Canada, both Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, who is the founding President of Genocide Watch, and Dr. Rhoda E Howard-Hassmann, a leading human rights expert who is professor emeritus at Wilfrid Laurier University cautioned that the world is witnessing ta dangerous regression in human rights
Both experts faulted former US President Donald Trump for encouraging the sharp regression in efforts to protect and promote a range of human rights. “Human rights regressed more during the four years of Donald Trump because the US was no longer leading the way – as it should – on human rights. Not that we should be the only leaders,” said Dr. Stanton during an hour-long interview. “We had a president who in many ways was opposed to human rights,” explained the former senior US Department of State advisor.
While Trump’s defeat, he said, was a relief, the threat persists. “It is a relief that he was defeated, but no one should get the illusion that the US has really changed. Trump received 74 million votes and he came within a few electoral votes of being re-elected. So the systematic racism that is still characteristic in the US, and that I’ve fought against my whole life, is still very evident.”
He said that Trump’s lack of interest in promoting human rights encouraged other countries to violate them in many ways and more so during the pandemic – which started on his watch.
“The problem is that because we (the US) were not supportive of human rights in so much of the world, a lot of other countries also became worse for human rights,” said Dr. Stanton, who is known for drafting the United Nations Security Council resolutions that created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the Burundi Commission of Inquiry, and the Central African Arms Flow Commission.
Witnessing the aftermath of the Cambodian Genocide in 1980, Dr. Stanton felt called to make it his life's work to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice. That calling, according to Dr. Stanton, grew into the Rwanda Tribunal and the founding of Genocide Watch, a global movement to prevent future genocides and crimes against humanity.
During the no holds barred interview over Zoom, Dr. Stanton was quick to steer the discussion to human rights violations in other parts of the world that appear to have been accelerated during the pandemic.
India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said has used the restrictions to limit life further in Kashmir. “Modi has 600,000 Indian troops in Kashmir and the place is in a lockdown. In many ways, it is a police state. So discrimination continues.”
Pointing out other discriminatory policies including the Citizenship Amendment Act, which he said, is designed to specifically discriminate against Muslims, the Modi government is trying to accelerate the process of alienating a significant portion of India’s population – primarily based on their religion.
“Modi is forcing Muslims to produce documents to prove their Indian citizenship in Assam. You could ask an average person here in the US and they might not have any proof that they are citizens. This is the sort of discrimination we now see in India,” he said.
Blaming former president Trump, he said: “In Russia, it is due to our former president’s complaisance and his almost agreement that enabled Putin to clamp down on all dissent and to persecute the main opposition leader and to try to poison him.”
Dr. Stanton also said persecution and violation of basic rights had increased in places like Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, and even Hungary, a European state. According to him, human rights violations have become the third rail of the global agenda during the pandemic.
“The pandemic has made everything worse because it has dissolved the social bonds that allow people to act together for social justice. I believe that there are two basic divine forces in the world that we are part of: The first is love, which is the way God’s force is personally expressed. The second is justice, which is the way God’s force is socially expressed.”
When you dissolve the social fabric of a country, he explained, you automatically weaken the forces of justice. “Many dictators around the world have taken advantage of the Covid epidemic to defeat human rights movements in their countries,” said Dr. Stanton, who is known globally for drafting the Ten Stages of Genocide.
The restrictions on public gatherings during the pandemic, he said, enables governments to extend their authoritarian policies. “Due to the restriction on social gatherings, you can’t have demonstrations. So it makes it very difficult during Covid to organize movements that can defeat forces of tyranny.”
“We are seeing it right now in Myanmar, where you have an army – the Tatmadaw – that is literally shooting people in the streets. And yes, those wonderful people of Myanmar still go out facing down those guns – realizing they will be shot. And they still go out every day. Now that is the kind of courage that is required to defeat tyranny,” he added.
In the wake of the global pandemic, Dr. Stanton said the forces of nationalism have gotten even stronger. We are seeing this selfishness by nation-states about vaccines.
“We are seeing this selfishness by nation-states about vaccines. They are unwilling to share their vaccines with other nations when we have a global pandemic. If we don’t defeat it everywhere in the world, we won’t be able to defeat it. It is a threat to every human being on the face of this planet,” said Dr. Stanton, who served as a young Peace Corps vaccinator during the smallpox eradication program many decades ago. The human race, he said, can only defeat a global threat if it concentrates and cooperates. “There is no other way to win this battle.”
People like Trump, he said, fan the flames of nationalism when they label Covid-19 as the Chinese virus. “Viruses don’t have nationalities or passports. Until we realize that and are willing to share the vaccine with everyone, we won’t be able to defeat the pandemic. We have enough vaccines here in the United States and we should be giving them away,” he said.
Dr. Stanton noted that there has been a sharp increase in nationalistic tendencies around the world during the pandemic. “Nationalism turns into fascism, and that’s when you start believing that you’re the chosen race, and everyone else is the “other.” One national group starts believing it has a special right to take over everything.”
Over the last four years and particularly since the onset of the pandemic, the United States has been accused of being selective in its approach towards human rights violations.
When asked about Washington’s behavior, Dr. Stanton responded candidly: “I agree that the United States has been selective. There has always been tension in our foreign policy between advocates of realism and idealism. The struggle has been going on for decades – even while I was at the US Department of State.”
At one point after presenting the 10 stages of Genocide at a briefing at the State Department in Foggy Bottom, Dr. Stanton recalls, he was questioned by then-Deputy Secretary of State and long-time diplomat, George F. Ward about how preventing genocide was in the national interest of the United States.
“I told Ambassador Ward that it depends on how you define our national interest. If you define our national interest narrowly in terms of controlling oil and strategic positions, it really has very little to do with our national interest. But if you have a broader view, a longer view, of our national interest, then you will see that it is in the US’s national interest to promote human dignity and the thriving of people all around the world. Through that vision, more nations will become democratic, more nations will see liberty – and that is in our national interest.”
He said it should be in the long-term interest of every country to protect and promote human rights. “I do know there is a growing realization in Washington now compared to four years ago that it is in our national interest to promote human rights and prevent genocide.”
When probed further about US policies on human rights and how Washington’s selective approach had harmed the cause, Dr. Stanton said: “I am afraid that our record hasn’t been good during recent times. I hope the US becomes more consistent in its approach towards human rights in the future.”
Can Biden protect human rights?
Urging the Biden administration to be more consistent in its human rights policies, Dr. Stanton said, the United States has failed to prevent genocide in the past. Referring to