Human Rights Marauding as Foreign Policy

Human rights marauding as foreign policy


Often derided as a Western invention or a propaganda ploy, human rights seem to be further away from their universalist aspirations than they were at their beginning. While they were founded by idealists who wanted to better the world, human rights seem to have paved the way for a new form of imperialism. At its worst, they are being used to veil interventionist foreign policies in order to gain economic or military advantages and purely serve self-interests under the cover of an absolutist claim of universality.

Western interventionism is the falsified data which is used to draw attention to the methods of certain governments like extrajudicial killing, disappearance of system adversaries and torture against their own citizens. The track of human rights trends usually are published by the U.S. State Department or Human Rights Watch and other similar organizations. This leads to the problem that for example the  CIRI indicator cannot show the exact number of torture being used, because their data was based on the annual reports from the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International. Most of the incidents like torture do not run openly as such which makes it almost impossible to detect all of them and name an accurate number. The concept of ‘political killings’ not only includes murdering political opponents or to keep them at bay using violence and threats, but also excessive police violence and guerrilla groups marauding which are a by-product of these issues. This especially proves a threat for Human Rights organizations and NGOs that are being utilized for economic advantages and have their independence and impartiality compromised. “Rights-based developments” merely become superimpositions of Western standards which might not be applicable in all countries when it comes to economic growth or are culturally and socially irreconcilable.


Human Rights in Central America

U.S. military interventionism in foreign policy has a long and storied history that has been intertwined with U.S. discussions of human rights, to the detriment of the latter’s integrity, for decades. In many cases, proposed human rights protective measures have eroded over time, eventually serving as a flimsy front for U.S. control of other nations. U.S. involvement in Central America has been particularly fraught. Tracing the policy of the Carter and Reagan administrations in Nicaragua and El Salvador shows the movement from human rights to the U.S. being condemned of terrorism in 1986 (Nicaragua v. The United States of America), a pithy example of how a human rights campaign, run by the wrong players, can turn into widespread destruction of human life.

In 1977, Jimmy Carter won the presidency, his foreign policy platform promising to reinvigorate American foreign policy by infusing it with “a new morality” grounded in human rights. Carter aimed to change the traditionally ineffective rhetoric around human rights into tangible action from the U.S. government. Carter’s “absolute” commitment to human rights wavered, however, in the face of the Cold War. Facing pressure to continue his predecessors’ staunchly anti-Communist stance, inculcated into American culture and politics as a necessary defense against the evils of Communism, Carter quickly recast “human rights” in a more politically defensible role, paving the way for Reagan’s military intervention in El Salvador and Nicaragua just years later.The early Carter administration lent money and arms to Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the third generation dictator of Nicaragua. Somoza was known for embezzling emergency funds after the devastating 1974 earthquake in Nicaragua, building off the brutality and corruption of the dictatorships of his father and grandfather. The latter was responsible for the killing of revolutionary general, Augusto Sandino - the namesake for the Sandinista revolution that created the situation that “forced” President Carter to lend money to a corrupt dictator. In myth if not in fact, he was also famous referred to by FDR as “our son of a bitch”, as in “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch” (tellingly, this quote has been attributed to several U.S. leaders referring to Latin American counterparts). In the virulently anti-Communist United States still traumatized by the Cuban Revolution, the leftist revolutionary movement of Sandinistas hit an exposed nerve - so despite all evidence condemning the Somoza dynasty regime, Carter dragged his feet in removing support from the Somoza dictatorship.

If Carter’s explicit human rights foreign policy platform was, at best, ineffective in the pursuit of protecting human life, imagine the impact of Reagan’s foreign policy, which held fewer pretensions in the way of human rights. Reagan simultaneously built off Carter’s apologist precedent while rejecting the human rights dialogue in favor of a more pro-American sentiment - yet the human rights structure occasionally forced Reagan into even more abhorrent actions as president. As human rights “deadlines” approached, Reagan and his cabinet lied more and more about the deaths in Central America - because they had to say “human rights are improving” in C.A. in order to receive more funding for the Contras in Nicaragua and the military forces in El Salvador. In this case, the human rights framework worked to obscure the actual atrocities being committed by U.S. armed and funded forces in Central America.


Operation Babylift

One key example of human rights rhetoric being used to justify Western intervention and neo-imperialism is the objectification of infants. For example, in April 0f 1975, the United States engaged in Operation Babylift, an endeavor to bring South Vietnamese orphans to the United States with the supposed intention of evacuating them from the country and giving them a new life in the West. This mission was largely marketed as a humanitarian effort that would benefit the infants themselves by providing a Westernized lifestyle and potentially saving them from communism. As Yen Le Espiritu demonstrates in her book Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refugees, many of the supposed orphans that were brought to the United States were not orphans at all, but were infants from low-income families that were coerced by the United States  into giving them to orphanages. In addition, the planes these infants were transported in failed to abide by safety regulations where the children were treated like cargo, leading to at least one plane crash where 138 people (78 of which were children) were killed.

Since Operation Babylift, it has been discovered that some of the infants had even had their names switched during the adoption process to further obscure US coercion, which demonstrates once more that Vietnamese bodies and particularly those of infants were objectified to promote a human rights brand while “[erasing] the role played by U.S. interventionist foreign policy and war in inducing this forced migration” (Espiritu 104). The objectification of children’s bodies can be seen with the media coverage of human trafficking and refugee borderlands as well. While it is true that any form of human rights discourse can and has been used to justify violent and exploitative Western intervention (such as LGBTQ+ rights and women’s rights), the use of children’s bodies is a common and reoccurring way to sanitize and obscure imperialistic intervention, as it is the case with exploitative aid efforts in African countries and the presence of harmful American military bases in the Philippines, Okinawa, and other regions of Asia.Overall, the U.S government and its Foreign Policy nowadays covers a wide range of functions- maintaining diplomatic relations with other countries and international organizations like the United Nations. Also, peacekeeping functions are given: Their aim is it to try to work together with the allies to assure regional and international security and arms-control efforts. Regarding for example Iraq and its unofficial Militias supported by the Central Government in Baghdad, and therefore supported with weapons and equipment by America, this does only work to some extent.



This blog was written by Group 5: Flo, Jamin, Jesse, Luisa and Sage


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