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The Selective Compassion of the Media & Human Rights Establishment

Last week, there were marches throughout the streets of 20 different cities in demonstrations by citizens calling themselves, “Victims of State Crimes.”  And indeed, these crimes have been considerable, involving murder, kidnapping and forced displacement of civilians from their homes, their land and their town.   This violence has been so bad that the country now has the largest internally displaced population in the world at over 5 million and counting.  And, those that resist this violence are murdered, including the 49 human rights activists killed just last year.  Meanwhile, in the capital city, demonstrations were held on International Women’s Day in support of women who have increasingly been victims of acid attacks, permanently disfiguring them and causing a life-time of psychological pain.

There is little chance you heard about any of this when you picked up your newspaper to read this morning or tuned into NPR.   This is so because these events did not take place in Syria, where the U.S. is ramping up its plans for military intervention to topple the government. Nor did these events take place at the hands of the Afghan Taliban – who the U.S. has been fighting for over 10 years, but who will most likely take over Afghanistan anyway.  Rather, these events took place in Colombia which has received billions of dollars in aid from the U.S. since 2000, and where death squads aligned with the state the U.S. is funding are carrying out most of the atrocities.

Thus, while I listened last week to the NPR reporter (based in Beirut, Lebanon, but purporting to describe events in Syria) passionately speaking on behalf of Syrians who, the reporter claims, see the armed resistance as their “protectors,” I did not hear any reporter based in South America weeping for the countless victims of our client state of Colombia – a country only a few short hours by air from Miami.

Nor did I hear such reporters, as they do in the case of Syria, pleading for support for the armed resistance in Colombia (the FARC or ELN), though there are certainly some there – mostly poor peasants – who see that resistance as their only “protectors.”  Oh, you might say, that is different because those armed insurgents commit human rights violations and receive financing from questionable sources such as drugs.   However, neither the press nor the U.S. government show any such concern for the grave human rights abuses of the armed militias in Libya who targeted, and continue to target, black Africans with arrest, displacement and extra-judicial killings.   Nor do they even pause to worry about the fact that at least a segment – probably the most powerful segment – of the Syrian armed opposition (the Free Syrian Army) has links to and is receiving assistance from Al Qaeda, and carries out its own human rights abuses.

The disconnect on these issues is so vast that one will rarely hear the press or even human rights groups call for what many in Colombia and in the U.S. have been calling for over the past many years — that Colombia, with U.S. support and participation, sit down and negotiate a peace settlement with the guerillas.

Human Rights Watch has even been a champion of the U.S.’s military plan in Colombia known as Plan Colombia — as it has been a cheerleader for interventions in Libya and Syria — which has claimed over 250,000 victims, though it admits that it is the right-wing paramilitaries, aligned with the U.S.-backed military, which are the greatest threat to stability and human rights in that country.   Indeed, Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director for Americas at Human Rights Watch,  recently admitted as much in an interview with Al Jazeera, but still pressed on with his support of the Colombian government’s military offensive.  In this same interview, entitled, “Will Colombia Talk Peace with FARC,” Vivanco made it clear that the Colombian government shouldn’t talk peace with the FARC even on the heels of the FARC’s renouncing of kidnapping.  Rather, Vivanco, the ostensible human rights leader, made it clear that the FARC was not worthy of dialogue and that the war must go on.  I’m sure this was music to the ears of the U.S. which also has opposed any peace talks with the guerillas, and instead, true to form, has opted for perpetual war.

Of course, the reason for the difference in the treatment of these cases by the U.S. government, the media and even by human rights has nothing to do with human rights at all.   Rather, the difference boils down to the U.S. government’s perceived geo-political interests and goals (certainly centered around oil in the cases of Syria, Libya and Colombia), and the general acceptance of these goals (or at least of the U.S.’s professed moral superiority even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary) by the media and human rights organizations.

“Human rights” doctrine has devolved into a mere tool used by the U.S. to carry out its imperial aims, and many times by means (such as war) which cause many more human rights violations than they purport to solve.   If this realization ever sinks in, the American people will have to conclude that they are being manipulated on a daily basis by the “free press” they trust into supporting wasteful and cruel wars, and that the strong presumption should always be against U.S. military intervention abroad.   Sadly, this realization seems far off, even amongst the Left in this country.

Daniel Kovalik is a labor lawyer and anti-imperialist living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (He has decided to stop using the moniker of “human rights lawyer” as that term has been stripped of any real meaning by the phenomenon described in this article).

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Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

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