In a report issued to the UN Commission on Human Rights, M. Cherif Bassiouni reported on allegations that American military forces and independent contractors in Afghanistan acted above the law with "sexual abuse, beatings, torture, and use of force resulting in death." As a result, the UN Commission on Human Rights was pressured at a meeting in Geneva by U.S. diplomats to eliminate his post that was appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last April: the United Nation's "independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan."
It was only last year that the U.S. had pushed for the post of "Special Rapporteur" to be downgraded in stature to that of "independent expert." Now with the elimination of this position, the burden of monitoring human rights abuses in Afghanistan falls upon the shoulders of UN human rights commissioner Louise Arbour whose global responsibilities "won't leave her time to focus on Afghanistan," according to Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. But this is precisely what the Bush administration wants.
Reflecting the Washington culture of institutionalized impunity, an unnamed American official explained that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is no longer troubling enough to require an "independent expert" and accused the brutally honest Bassiouni of grandstanding in order to "bolster his resume."
Ridiculous assertions have become commonplace with the Bush administration, and this one is about someone who was nominated in 1999 for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the field of international criminal justice and for his work to create the International Criminal Court. A Distinguished Research Professor of Law at De Paul University College of Law and President of the International Human Rights Law Institute, Bassiouni is also the Honorary President of the International Association of Penal Law in Paris and is President of the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences in Siracusa, Italy. Among other things, he has served the United Nations as Chairman of the Security Council's Commission to Investigate War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia. He has received numerous international medals and awards for his work and has authored twenty-seven books and edited an additional forty-four. Professor Bassiouni's resume hardly needs "bolstering" by any stretch of the imagination. There is nobody on the planet better qualified in the area of human rights and international law than he.
In addition to reporting allegations of American forces "engaging in arbitrary arrests and detentions and committing abusive practices, including torture," Bassiouni's report covered the entire gamut of human rights violations in Afghanistan to include enslavement of children, inequities against women, and lack of due process against poor minorities who have been displaced by years of unrelenting warfare. The report said, "If corruption continues to intensify, as is likely with the growing power of drug traffickers and organized crime, it will become virtually impossible to establish and sustain a meaningful commitment to the rule of law in Afghanistan."
Afghanistan has hardly become a model of democracy since the U.S. ousted the Taliban. Funded by an annual two-billion-dollar drug industry, powerful warlords and armed factions totaling 80,000 men are responsible for extortion, robberies, and political repression. Contrast this to the Afghan government operating on an annual shoestring budget that amounts to a meager ten-percent of that. Much of this is due to donor nations, NATO countries in particular, being remiss in meeting their commitments to Afghanistan. And thanks to the Bush administration, Afghanis should get used to under-funded government initiatives just as we have here in the U.S.
Since he was not allowed access to the two biggest U.S. facilities in Bagram and Kandahar, and since there are fourteen other outposts that are not even accessible by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Bassiouni relied on "a lot of allegations of people who have been tortured and mistreated." He spent one year traveling throughout Afghanistan interviewing international agency staff as well as the Afghan Human Rights Commission who accused U.S. troops of breaking into homes and arresting and abusing residents. He also toured several Afghani-run prisons where conditions are draconian with people being held in shackles and in underground boxes.
During an interview for CBS news in Chicago, Bassiouni said that, "when the U.S. government is sort of stonewalling it, it doesn't really do much good for the U.S. Basically what needs to change is the U.S. needs to recognize the applications of the Geneva Convention because one of these days our troops are going to be taken prisoner by somebody else and we would not want them to be tortured or mistreated as we are treating these people." He went on to say that, "We hear a lot of stories that are very disturbing, and the better way of putting these stories to rest is by transparency."
Fat chance with a Bush administration that has rejected the Golden Rule as a matter of foreign policy. Transparency is the last thing they need in Afghanistan when it becomes necessary to cave-in to pressure to finally allow inspections of the prison in Guantanamo and for prisoners to be interviewed. All human rights abuse victims will have been transferred by then. Guess where?
* "Hypocracy" is not an accepted English word that means government by hypocrites.
Harold Williamson is a Chicago-based independent scholar. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2005 Harold Williamson.
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