By Mahendra De Silva –
Dictators and their supporters throughout the world always complain of the double standards of Western Countries when it comes to human rights violations. Was it correct for Americans and Western Countries to tolerate human rights violations of dictators who were supporting them such as Pervez Musharraf, Hosni Mubarak, Marcos and many others and also encouraging overthrowing of regimes that opposed them even though these regimes have been elected by people? It is no secret that Americans helped the coup against Salvador Allende who was elected by Chilean people and they supported the ruthless military dictator Augusto Pinochet, who took power after Allende. Was it correct for America and allies to invade Iraq, by making false charges of holding the weapons of mass destructions? Is it correct for America to try 9/11 terrorists in, Guantanamo Bay detection camp, subjecting them to an inferior standard of justice than what is in America. Is it correct for America and Western Countries to support Israel, irrespective of its track record of violating human rights of Palestinian people? The record of America and Western Countries with regard to most of the above issues has been condemned by Human rights Activist and Amnesty international regularly. It is no secret that self-interest of these countries comes first than the interest of other countries. However criticism by their own media and the unpopularity within these countries is compelling them to take more realistic and just approaches recently. They were compelled withdraw support for their own man former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, which brought in to power Mohamed Morse, whose policies are not in the good books of Western Countries. In future they would have to continue support popular uprisings, irrespective of the regime taking over is favourable to them. Question remains whether some bad acts of Western Countries would take away their right to preach human rights to third world countries or dictatorial regimes in the world.
The main difference of Western World and Dictatorial regimes in the world is comparatively higher standards in Rule of Law and good governance and free media in the Western World. No one in America or in Western democracies will question the validity of their elections. Misuse of power by Politicians or their attempt to interfere with public service or judiciary, is minimum. Even if it happens due to high media scrutiny they get exposed in a short time. In the Western World, media will not dare to condemn or expose any wrong acts or scandal of any politician irrespective of the position a person holds. Infamous Watergate scandal made President Nixon to resign in 1974. This was first exposed by New York Times. Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal resulted in impeachment of President Clinton. Executive power vested with American or French Presidents are comparatively high compared to other democracies. But there are Senate and Congress in American system which could apply brakes on whatever the President wants to do. President Obama, who was elected by popular vote last year, is struggling hard to get through his Fiscal policies and other progressive proposals go through the Congress led by opposition Republicans. But he will never dream of amending the constitution or doing something drastic that will be against the constitution or accepted traditions. Every day President is being bombarded with very vicious campaigns by Fox news agency and other conservative media institutions. Even if President wants to supress media who attacks him, he knows Americans will not tolerate him in the position even for a day if he resorts to anti-democratic moves. The democratic standards in Australia, Canada and European countries are even higher. Main Radio and TV stations like BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp, Australian Broadcasting Corp are funded by government.. But that does not bother them in exposing corruption in the government or having an independent line of reporting. Former Tory cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken in UK was investigated by the Guardian and World in Action for corrupt deals with leading Saudi Arabians. In 1999 he was jailed for perjury and perverting the course of justice. Then there is the scandal of MPs’ expenses. The Daily Telegraph exposed a massive culture of claim abuse that ripped off the taxpayer’s .Former British Defence Secretary Liam Fox was forced to resign due to the exposure of his links to his friend who posed as a government adviser while foreign donors funded his trips with the minister.
All of this is proof that we need free media to investigate and keep the public well informed. This is vital for the continuation of democracy in any country. In a dictatorship which controls the media, people would be compelled to read news, current affairs and everything which is only favourable to the government. This is what is happening in most of the totalitarian states in the world like North Korea, China, Iran etc. In Sri Lanka we can see the news which favors only the ruling party in the government owned newspapers published by Lake House. With regard to privately owned newspapers, government controls the publication of news which is adverse to them by using its influence through the owners of the newspapers and also by threatening to reduce the government advertisements. The media is scared to expose large scale corruptions or scandals of the politicians and as a result corruption could continue to grow. In North Korea government propaganda are very similar to the messages portrayed by other communist countries. North Korean propaganda focus on military might, Utopian society and devotion to the state, and the leader’s personality. They are used to depict the opposite of what is really happening in the country to the outside world. Kim Jung IL is credited with using propaganda art and posters to make the Kim family’s identity inseparable from the state. The country’s supreme leaders have had hymns dedicated to them that served as their signature tune and were repetitively broadcast by the state media: The Korean government also runs a film industry that promotes movie depicting the glory of North Korean life, and the atrocities of Western Imperialism. The people in such totalitarian states become prisoners of their own government.
In Western World, media is mostly owned by private companies which may be having their own interests and agendas. However there is competition to inform the correct news responsibly. People have the choice of getting the news from various sources legally allowed to operate in the country. In most of the Western Countries, even Al Jazeera and other news agencies which are generally against western foreign policies and Israel are also allowed to operate.. The chances of anyone carrying distorted news is less under this environment. That does not mean this environment is in anyway perfect. There were allegations against conduct of BBC itself. There were allegations that BBC and most of the Western media highlighted the human right violations of Sri Lankan forces more than the human right violations of Tamil Tigers. There were allegations that Tamil Diaspora was active in influencing the Western media.
Too much of freedom in the western countries have its own problems. People have too many choices to think and in the process very often people get selfish, not caring for other beings. Chasing after more and more pleasure could end up with unrest and depression. It has led to more violence and drug and alcohol addiction. There are hidden racial discriminations in some sections of the society. Bringing up children in such a society which has different cultural values is a challenge for a parents coming from an Asian cultural background. Despite all the short comings l people from third world countries, who have lived in the past with fear of arbitrary arrests or unfair treatment, would consider it as a privilege to live in this part of the world, where there is higher standard in freedom of expression, rule of law, good governance and respect of human rights,
Any right thinking man would agree that despite all the bad things, Western countries have a much more superior track record of democracy than rough States like Burma, Iran, North Korea or any other third world country including Sri Lanka. Therefore they still could speak of improving the standards of human rights in other countries. The other reason is that they provide most of the aid to third world countries and it is quite correct in linking aid with improvements in human right standards. The people under the suppression of dictators in many third world countries have only hope that UN and Western countries would apply pressure on dictators to do more to improve human rights and good governance and fairness. The pressure applied by Western governments has worked marvelously in Burma and even in China. These countries are opening up more and more to improve their horrible human rights record over the years. Even in Sri Lanka, if Western countries had ignored all the violations of human rights and misuse of power and did not apply pressure on rulers, our country would have been a totally dictatorial regime a long time ago.
Another tactic used by Dictators and their supporters to deviate the public anger against them on human right violations, is to make allegations that that those who speak up for human rights and media freedom are funded by Western countries or organizations who want to destroy the achievements of the country. Often NGOs and human right activists are branded as traitors to the nation. Iran, North Korea and many dictators of third world countries including Sri Lanka do this regularly. It is a fact that most of the NGOs are funded by Western countries and they sometimes have their own agendas in addition to protection of human rights. But that does not mean that all human right activists and NGOs are working for an unholy purpose. Most of the people involved do this with genuine desire to see the standard of human rights and rule of law improvements in the country in addition to improvements in living standards of the poorest people.
Sri Lankan government and state sponsored media often claim that Tamil diaspora is behind all bad publicity received by Sri Lanka internationally. There is no doubt that Tamil Tigers are the greatest benefactor of the present bad publicity Sri Lanka is receiving worldwide. However much a government tries to hide in what is happening in the country, in an era where globalization is the order of the day; news will pass through internet easily and quickly throughout the world. Tamil Tigers who have not given up their goal of Tamil Elam would be very happy that Sri Lanka is going in to chaos and more and more misuse of power and deterioration of democracy, law and order are coming to light. This will help them to justify their claim and prove to the world that expecting fairness within the country for their people is impossible. Right minded Sinhalese should think whether the real traitors of the nation are the Sri Lankans who demand more reforms in Human Rights, Rule of Law and Good Governance in the country or those who blindly endorse and support the rulers to misuse power and do all the undemocratic acts and human right violations in the country.
There are no perfect democracies in the world. Western countries have their flaws and setbacks in their human rights performances. But the standard of democracy practiced within their countries is far more superiors to that of third world countries or regimes run by dictators. There is strong media and public opinion together with the alertness of the public with regard to their rights which makes it difficult for corrupt politicians to deceive and exploit the country for a long time. On the other hand in dictatorial regimes, dictators suppress the media and public opinion effectively so that they could exploit the country continuously without any obstacles. The argument that western countries do not have any right to criticize or interfere with regard to human rights violations of the dictators is baseless and made by dictators themselves or their supporters. The civilians of a country suppressed by unjust rule of dictators will have no escape unless International Community cooperate to rescue them by applying pressure on such regimes by way of isolation or trade embargos. Basic human rights are universal and do not differentiate between countries. It is the duty of all intelligent citizens to demand improvements in Human Rights and Rule of Law in the country.