By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, December 10: US President Joe Biden’s Democratic Summit concludes on December 10 (Human Rights Day), with leaders of several countries branded by independent watchdog institutions as the most authoritarian regimes in the world.
Two American institutes, Freedom House index and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) revealed that eight invitees fall exceptionally low on their democracy rankings, raising troubling questions about their invitations: These are: Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Serbia, and Zambia.
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Four additional invitees prompt serious backsliding concerns due to heightened levels of autocratization or big declines in freedom of expression over the past ten years: These are: Brazil, India, the Philippines, and Poland. Of the strange mix of invitees, the Freedom House listed at least 3 of the invitees as ‘not free’ and as many as 31 as ‘partly free’.
By the American State Department’s own account, the governments of both Pakistan and the Philippines are responsible for “unlawful or arbitrary killings.”
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Some countries were not invited due to very surprising reasons. Hungary, a member of the European Union, and Turkey, a NATO ally, were excluded. Asked about the criteria, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “Inclusion or an invitation is not a stamp of approval on their approach to democracy — nor is exclusion a stamp of the opposite of that, of disapproval.”
The excluded countries aren’t buying that lame excuse. Hungary complained that the country is being penalized for its closeness to former President Donald Trump. The Hungarian Embassy in Washington said the Biden administration’s decision was “disrespectful.”
South Asia’s oldest democracy, Sri Lanka, has been excluded while countries with blatant human right violations have been invited as they vote with the US on any resolution at the United Nations General Assembly.
Derek Mitchell, a former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar and the President of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, agreed. “My sense is this is not an initiative to create an exclusive club of democracy but to just celebrate this issue of democracy,” Mitchell said. “But you can’t help geopolitics being here.”
READ: Can Biden’s ‘divisive’ democracy summit deliver?
Pot Calling the Kettle Black
Another challenge for the administration is that the United States itself is not a perfect example of a well-oiled democracy. Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom in the World report — which scores countries on a scale of 0 to 100 — gave the United States a score of 83, a marked decline from its score of 94 a decade ago. The deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, too, undermined American democracy in the eyes of many allies. Hence, one critic said US democracy and human rights call is ‘pot calling the kettle black’.
Two of the strangest invitees to Democracy Summit are Brazil, the country with the largest population in the continent and Marshall Islands, which has the lowest population – mere 56,000. Both are listed as human rights violators. The first thousand days into President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, Brazil is considerably worse off than when he took office, Amnesty International said. Gross mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, the aggravation of a public security crisis, and vast environmental devastation are just three outcomes of a tenure that has been nothing less than ‘disastrous for human rights.’ Amnesty International has highlighted 32 government actions that have clearly led to serious human rights violations since the Brazilian President’s inauguration to September 26, 2021.
Millions of Brazilians across the country have felt the impact of these harmful policies in their pockets, on their dinner tables, and in their bodies. Brazil is mired in a grave and multidimensional human rights crisis, AI added.
READ: US not to mix South Asian countries with India
The US, while inviting perpetrators of human rights violations to the Summit, failed to take into account the steps taken by Sri Lanka towards strengthening human rights, peace, reconciliation. Sri Lanka’s National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (NHRAP) was published nine years ago and steps were taken to implement it vigorously.
One of the main pledges made was to adopt and implement a national plan of action that would encapsulate all national efforts towards improvement in human rights promotion and protection in the country. The Cabinet granted its approval for the NHRAP and also the process of implementation, coordination and monitoring in the following year. Fifty agencies of government were given the responsibility for implementation. The progress report was placed during the periodical review process in UNHRC in Geneva, outlining progress made to date and underscored the importance of the NHRAP in the promotion and protection of human rights as well as contributing towards reconciliation and peace-building initiatives of the Government.
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While excluding many important democratic countries, the US invited its lackey Marshall Islands to the Summit. Marshall Islands was ceded to the US after the World War II and the US used it for nuclear testing. From 1946 to 1958, the United States detonated 67 atomic bombs on the islands—the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshimas a day for 12 years. The effects are still felt today, and the Marshall Islands are one of the countries least visited by tourists.
It is a sprawling chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the central Pacific Ocean with a population of 58,791 people. Bikini Atoll, where The US military conducted nuclear testing from 1946 through 1958 is one of the atolls in the chain.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands, though claims to be a sovereign state, has a Compact with United States who has agreed to pay at least US$ 57 million every year. Under the Compact, the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands, and the Government of the Marshall Islands is obligated to refrain from taking actions that would be incompatible with these security and defense responsibilities.
On the instructions of the US, Marshall Islands still recognize Taiwan as the legitimate rulers of China and maintains diplomatic relations with them. The Marshall Island also has a very dubious record of selling babies to the US through an astonishing and shameless human trafficking ring, operating for years across the Marshall Islands archipelago and the United States of America.
The racket involved pregnant women from Pacific being lured to the United States with offers of US$ 10,000 and the promise of a new life in America, to give up their babies. That is the record of a country invited by President Biden to his Democratic Summit.
There is a long notorious record of human rights violations by Iraq, another invitee to Biden’s Democratic Summit. The Human Rights Watch accused Iraq of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings of demonstrators in the last two years. The Iraqi government failed to address these issues or to prevent most serious human rights violations. There is no democracy in Iraq.
Another invitee, Fiji, has been questioned by human rights groups over the years. Prime Minister Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama was the leader of the 2006 coup (he also led the countercoup of 2000) and has held onto power, albeit through a few elections during some of which fundamental rights including freedom of speech, association, and assembly were openly violated. Two years ago, during the Fiji’s general election, Amnesty International called on the government to tackle the country’s failing human rights protections. Amnesty Spokeswoman Roshika Deo said security forces continued to torture people, media workers were harassed for doing their job and women were shamed and harassed for calling out violence and discrimination against them.
“We had reports of torture and death in police custody and in remand centers. Freedom of expression is criminalized in Fiji. There’s increasing use of sedition and other criminal provisions to arrest and attack the media,” Deo said.
However, Admiral Bainimarama’s military coups and decrees are democratic, according to the lopsided logic of the US.
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