BY: ALFRED DE ZAYAS
Photo credit: United Nations (UN)
Anyone who has followed the political culture in the US, Canada, UK, EU over the past twenty years must have realized that a war on epistemology, on truth, on semantics is going on. We witness the hijacking of concepts like democracy, freedom, peace, patriotism, human rights — and their instrumentalization for domestic and geopolitical purposes. We observe a process of language destruction not unlike what Orwell foresaw in his sadly visionary book 1984. “Newspeak” is not the future, it is now, hic et nunc. We recognize it in the jargon of political correctness, the language and practice of the “cancel culture”.
The military-industrial-financial complex in the US, Canada, UK, EU is hell bent on full spectrum cognitive control and inundates the population with plausible “narratives” based on fake news, fake history, fake law, fake diplomacy and fake democracy. We are literally swimming in an ocean of lies – but, remarkably, most people are not conscious of the fact that they are systematically manipulated by governments, corporate media, compliant think tanks and universities. The power of “political correctness” surrounds us in direct and subliminal ways. Most accept it as the “new normal”, as long as they continue having Hollywood entertainment and lots of sports on television. The classical panem et circensis (Juvenal).
A particularly worrisome phenomenon is the gradual emergence of a “human rights industry” that systematically subverts and weaponizes human rights. The holistic approach to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights advocated by Eleanor Roosevelt has been quietly denatured, dismantled, discarded. We see how the “industry” transforms the individual and collective entitlement to assistance, protection, respect and solidarity — based on our common human dignity — into a hostile arsenal to target competitors and political adversaries.
In the stockpile of weaponized human rights, the technique of “naming and shaming” has become a sort of ubiquitous Kalashnikov. Yet, experience shows that naming and shaming fails to alleviate the suffering of victims and only satisfies the strategic aims of certain governments, non-governmental organizations and of a burgeoning clique of human rights operatives in government, academia and even in international organizations. Allegations of real and putative human rights violations have proven politically very useful to destabilize rivals, denouncing and demonizing them. To this end the deliberate use of double-standards, the maximation of human rights violations by a targeted country and the negation or suppression of evidence of violations by our own governments or by our allies, prepares the population to accept patently unjust and illegal actions to prepare “regime change” elsewhere. Precisely this kind of indoctrination of the population through evidence-free allegations and hyperbole paves the way to barbarism e.g. the aggression against Iraq in 2003 and against Libya in 2011, to name only two emblematic examples.
The Iraq invasion, which UN Secretary General Kofi Annan repeatedly called an “illegal war” found the support of a “coalition of the willing” – 43 States that turned their backs on the UN Charter and on international law, with the support of many university pundits and the corporate media. One could affirm without fear of contradiction that the Iraq war constituted an international revolt, an assault on the international order established under the UN Charter and a negation of the Nuremberg Principles.
The Iraq war was preceded by a public relations and disinformation scheme of “naming and shaming”, a concerted campaign about the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, about the extraordinary criminality of Saddam Hussein, who a few years earlier had done the Pentagon’s bidding in the US proxy war against Iran. Barely eight years later, in 2011, alleged human rights violations were again invoked to denounce Muammar al-Gaddafi for the sole purpose of destabilizing Libya, imposing undemocratic “regime change” and facilitating the looting of Libya’s natural resources. This occurred in flagrant violation of the customary international law principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign States, also contained in treaties and stipulated in the 1986 Judgment of the International Court of Justice in the Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua case.
Many rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council, European Commission and Inter-American commission also make use of “naming and shaming”, a strategy that rests on the false premise that the “namer” somehow possesses moral authority and that the “named” will recognize this moral superiority and act accordingly. Theoretically this could function if the “namer” were to practice “naming and shaming” uniformly, in a non-selective manner. Alas, the technique frequently backfires, because the “namer” has many skeletons in the closet and engages in blatant double-standards. Such intellectual dishonesty usually stiffens the resistance of the “named” party, who will be even less inclined to take any measures to remedy the alleged violations.
Another technique of norm-warfare is what is termed “lawfare”, whereby the apparatus of the administration of justice, both civil and criminal, is complicit in the subversion of the rule of law. We witness how domestic and international criminal law are instrumentalized to demonize certain persons and not others. A self-respecting judge would not betray the profession by playing this kind of game — but some do – as we have seen in the US, UK, Sweden and Ecuador in the Julian Assange case. The book by UN Rapporteur on Torture Professor Nils Melzer (Switzerland), originally published in German and now being released in English translation (by the author himself) The Trial of Julian Assange (Verso, New York 2022) reveals the breakdown of the rule of law in the US, UK, Sweden and Ecuador – a tour de force, far more serious than Emile Zola’s J’accuse in 1898 during the Dreyfus Affaire in France. Instead of safeguarding the ethos of the rule of law, these political judges corrupt it (remember Roland Freisler in Hitler’s infamous Volksgerichtshof!) thus undermining the credibility of the entire system. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes (Juvenal). This is a crucial question of constitutional law. Who will guard over the guardians? The corruption of the rule of law by those courts that engage in “lawfare” is far more serious than many will admit, because it is precisely the administration of justice that must be the gatekeeper of truth and equity, the defender of the weak and most vulnerable. The deliberate corruption of the administration of justice to target political or economic rivals leaves us powerless against tyranny.
Under certain conditions, “naming and shaming” as we know it from politicians, rapporteurs and the media, raise issues of additionalviolations of human rights and the rule of law, contravening Arts. 6, 7, 9, 10, 14, 17, 18, 19 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and could reach the threshold of what is termed “hate speech” under Art. 20 ICCPR.
Experience shows that “naming and shaming” is an ineffective instrument of change. States and ngo’s would do well to revisit Matthew VII, 3-5 and replace the obsolete “naming and shaming” technique by good faith proposals and constructive recommendations, accompanied by the offer of advisory services and technical assistance so as to concretely help the victims on the ground. Sowing honesty and friendship is necessary if we expect to reap cooperation and progress in human rights terms. What is most needed today is mature diplomacy, result-oriented negotiations, a culture of dialogue and mediation, instead of a petulant culture of posturing, grandstanding, intransigence and holier-than-thou pretence.
The arsenal of weaponized human rights also includes non-conventional wars such as economic wars and sanctions regimes, ostensibly justified because of the alleged human rights violations of the targeted State. The result is that, far from helping the victims, entire populations are held hostage –victims not only of violations by their own governments, but also of “collective punishment” by the sanctioning State(s). This can entail crimes against humanity under article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, when as a consequence food security is impacted, medicines and medical equipment are rendered scarce or are available only at exorbitant prices. Demonstrably, economic sanctions kill. It is particularly disgraceful how several non-governmental organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have preferred to focus on real and alleged violations of civil and political rights by Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and forgotten the fundamental human rights of the Venezuelan people and the fact that tens of thousands of Venezuelans have already perished as a direct result of illegal unilateral coercive measures and financial blockades, as we know from independent reports, including the 2019 report “Collective Punishment” by Professor Jeffrey Sachs (Colombia University) and Mark Weisbrot (Center for Economic and Policy Research) .
Another grotesque example of weaponization of human rights principles is reflected in UN Security Council Resolution 1973 concerning humanitarian assistance to the Libyan population. This resolution was promptly hijacked by NATO to wage an all-out war on Libya, leading to the assassination of Libya’s head of State, Muammar Gadaffi in 2011. Ten years later the country is still in civil war and chaos, but the natural resources are safely in the hands of Western economic interests. More recently, in February 2019, USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy organized “humanitarian assistance” for Venezuela and placed an impostor with no constitutional legitimacy, the pretender Juan Guaidó, as the leader who would bring this humanitarian assistance to Venezuela. The operation failed. This was followed by a real coup d’état attempt in April 2019, which again failed, and yet another attempt in May 2020, the Operation Gideon, which similarly failed. The violations by the US and accomplices of fundamental norms of international law – and common decency – were breathtaking. And yet, the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox, etc. whitewashed these operations and sided with the putschists – invoking “principles” such as “democracy”, “humanitarian intervention” and “responsibility to protect”. Hypocrisy had indeed come a long way.
Yet another form of weaponizing values is the grotesque undermining of peace and human rights by Committees that award such prizes. A notorious disgrace is the undermining of the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel, who genuinely wanted to promote peace and human rights. If one regards the laureates over the past years, we realize that most of them do not come within the testamentary purpose. These days the laureates are not genuine pacifists like Henri Dunant or Bertha von Suttner. They are chosen for purely political purposes – not to advance peace and dialogue, but to denounce certain governments (in 2021 the Philippines and Russia) and to promote a geopolitical model over another. This is totally against the letter and spirit the Nobel Peace Prize. The best book on the subject is by the Norwegian lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl, The Nobel Peace Prize – What Nobel really wanted.
And let us not forget the politicization and weaponization of sports. We are being manipulated into thinking that boycotting the Beijing Olympics is a good and honourable thing. It is not. It is an oxymoron, a public relations stunt.
What can we average citizens do? First and foremost we must know the facts. And because the corporate media lies to us, we must pro-actively get the information. Thanks to the internet, it is still possible to access information that we do not get in the New York Times (“all the news that’s fit to print”), Washington Post, CNN and Fox. We must demand transparency and accountability from our democratically elected leaders, when instead of formulating constructive solutions to problems they engage in confrontational politics. We must demand that our elected officials learn the habits of collaboration and compromise, enable true competition by guaranteeing a level playing field for everyone, both domestically and internationally. Our politicians, the media and the university pundits should embrace a new paradigm: competition in solidarity. I incorporate these thoughts into my 25 Principles of International Order,presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2018.
Here our New Year’s Resolutions:
1. Sapere aude (Horace). Get the facts and act thereon.
2. Pushback against the hybrid war being waged by governments and the media. Demand truth from the government and the private sector. Only on the basis of correct information can the citizen exercise his democratic rights.
3. Pushback against the war being waged against whistleblowers, true human rights defenders. Demand the immediate release of Julian Assange. Recognize the contribution of Edward Snowden to the survival of true American values.
4. Pushback against Orwellian newspeak and “political correctness”. Refuse to retreat into self-censorship.
5. Pushback against the military-industrial-financial complex
In 2022 let us commit to listen more to others, practice self-criticism and intellectual honesty, stop instrumentalizing values for short-term political gain.
Let us reject the weaponization of everything.
Alfred de Zayas is a professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and served as a UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order 2012-18.