More often than not, when we in the so called Third World, respond to or question unfairness on the part of those who champion our cause in the western world, we are easily branded delusional if not out rightly insane.
Questioning anything that comes out of the self proclaimed God mothers and fathers, of human rights activism, is in itself, an anathema, best left to the already senile, dictators of this world, who have everything to hide, in trampling our God given rights.
As citizens of this world, we have slowly watched our rights to be heard and understood, within the global human rights arena, diminish, being surrendered to a select group of global elites, whose word is always final.
However, recent events reveal that it is not going to be as simple as that, we are back to the drawing board.
I have had the greatest pleasure of indulging in the latest developments, within the Human Rights Watch (HRW) corridors of power.
The sudden tremors, felt from the organisations’ Middle-East policy, have shaken the very basis of a value system, many of us had from the side-lines, openly questioned, because of the inherent double standards and contradictions.
Necessitated by our honest, constructive desire for us to come out of this quandary, and be on the same page in the interpretation of the values that determine not only our right to life, but the rights to a decent job and or even the next meal. All important encompassing issues within the human rights realm that we ponder daily.
It has been with much interest and against this background that I read the article penned by none other than Robert L. Bernstein, founder and former chairperson of HRW for a period of 20 years -- from 1978 to 1998.
Twenty years is enough experience and exposure in any global court of law, for Bernstein to stand before a jury and give a testimony that carries the day. Enough to cast aspersions on the role and integrity of the human rights watch-dog, he has led.
The article published in the leading paper the New York Times, ‘Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast,’ makes an interesting exposure, for anyone who has a keen interest, in the human rights discourse within the global context.
There are a number of points raised by Bernstein, which are instructive, for us to further unpack, the quandary the international community finds itself in the interpretation of what constitutes human rights and their applicability.
Furthermore, it helps us to track those who have been branded as abusers of the same rights, including those who are protected or shielded from any such form of scrutiny. Leading to the crucial questions of who truly are the custodians of these rights?
Consequently, within a fast polarized global world, is any interpretation free or immune from political manipulation?
And where do we place stereotyping and characterizations, that Africans are more prone to violating, butchering each others rights, needing to be rescued from themselves, than say Europeans?
Furthermore, has human rights activism lost its sanctity and selflessness of the 60’s and 70’s, morphing into an industry for employment creation that has sunk to another low of immorality?
That human rights are universal is something that has been signed in as many declarations, emerging from decades of struggle, from the French revolution in 1789, to our own struggle in Africa against colonialism, for self determination.
However, it did not end there, and this where Bernstein’s new thinking and intervention is of paramount importance. Given that the basic tenets surrounding these value systems are not cast in iron, but evolve with time, creates the need for a serious re-engagement on the same.
He has taken us back to the drawing board for introspection and deep reflection as to whether the human rights train is still on the tracks, or it came of a while ago.
Given that those who have been entrusted with the interpretation of such rights, have also abused useful platforms, to score cheap political points and drive their own agendas.
I take you back to Kenneth Roth’s article, written at the height of the 15th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, ‘The power of horror in Rwanda,’ to which I responded with much trepidation and disdain.
For the simple reason that our common humanity has its boundaries, whatever feelings Mr Roth has towards Rwanda’s leadership, or Rwandans for that matter, I felt it was totally, untimely if not uncalled for him to pen such a politically motivated article.
Our common humanity and here in Africa, ‘Ubuntu’ calls for certain sensitivities, we do not celebrate death or the suffering, even of those we disdain.
Now, coming from a whole Director of HRW, who attempts to score cheap political points against a leadership in mourning, was telling.
When we raised our voices many might not have understood, being in Africa we lacked Bernstein’s proximity to power (Washington D.C) and the political clout perhaps to be heard.
Today, we claim vindication.
By his own admission the former chairman of HRW, proves to us all that the institution as a body, is open to political biases if not manipulation, like any other institution, it is made up of human beings who are prone to err.
He in the process demystifies, the standing of perhaps one of the oldest, biggest human rights organisations in the world, joining a chorus of condemnation from other voices, in Latin America and here in Africa.
Now to Roth and crew one can safely say, we are back to the drawing board.