JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you for joining us.
We are delighted to welcome back Ken Roth to our breakfast today. If you take a moment to read his c.v., it will immediately become apparent that, as the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, he has probably done more to bring human rights abuses to our attention than any other individual or group.
This morning the subject of his discussion is "Global Human Rights Leadership: Who Will Fill the Void Left by the United States?"
The introduction to the 2007 Human Rights Watch Report begins with a question that asks: What government is today's champion of human rights? This year there is increased disillusionment within Human Rights Watch, and for millions of people around the globe, as they realize that Washington's longstanding powerful voice on behalf of victims of human rights abuses has been diminished. Many in the global community wonder if the country that once stood as a staunch defender of human rights has now lost its moral compass, and they wonder, if America's credibility is on the wane, whether declarations such as the September 2005 UN Doctrine, which embraced the responsibility to protect people facing mass atrocities, will be more than just words on a page, without any discernible action.
Today it so often appears that human rights issues are vulnerable to double standards, double norms, and arbitrary attitudes around the world. More often than not, they are regarded as political matters, governed and dominated by power politics and self-interest. And in the end, the main losers are not the governments, but the individual victims of mistreatment and abuse. In the past, these individuals could look to the United States as their champion, but with the U.S. government's use of detention without trial and reports of interrogation and torture, this no longer rings true. Accordingly, we might ask: Who will take the lead in this battle to promote and protect human rights?
So often, in so many poignant ways, our guest has been the one to bring the human rights agenda to our attention. As an advocate for a strong public morality, he speaks about the inherent dignity of mankind and the abuses suffered at the hands of tyrants. Believing that the world can be a better place if you fight for what you believe in, Ken has been steadfast in bringing to the world's attention the perils faced by political activists, independent journalists, and ordinary citizens around the world.
Inasmuch as human rights are daily being put to the test, in my opinion there is no one better qualified to discuss the gap in leadership that is apparent today. For the Carnegie Council and our guest, it has always been a very thought-provoking morning when Ken is our speaker. I am confident that today will be no exception.
Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to a very unflappable and passionate voice for human rights, Ken Roth. Thank you for coming.
KENNETH ROTH: Thank you, Joanne, for that very generous introduction, and thank you all for braving the cold and the snow and the winds to make it here. I guess it shows that either you are very loyal to the Council or you are as worried as I am about the state of who is going to promote human rights around the world.
The topic this morning is not pleasant for me. The human rights movement is very dependent on allied governments to get things done. Obviously, much of what we do is to investigate human rights conditions around the world, to publicize abuses, and to shine a spotlight of shame on governments for their human rights violations.
But we also recognize that we need that activity supplemented by friendly and influential governments. Traditionally, there was no one more important in that process than the U.S. government. Now, I say that fully aware of all the warts and imperfections of the U.S. government's own record both domestically and in its foreign policy. And I am also aware of—and, indeed, I have probably spoken here several times about—the double standards that Joanne mentions, about the selectivity. But that said, the United States is, of course, the most powerful government, but also I think it is safe to say it has paid more attention to promoting human rights than anyone else around. So I am not happy to report the reality that I think is also apparent to most of us, and that is that the United States has severely damaged its credibility when it comes to promoting human rights.
Now, not on everything. You know, we should put a caveat there first. The United States doesn't engage in genocide, it's not running around killing massive numbers of people; so it can protest, say, in Darfur with credibility. The United States is not shutting down civil society, censoring newspapers, closing political parties; so it can advocate for the protection of those freedoms and institutions around the world.
But the United States is using torture and inhumane treatment. It has—and, frankly, continues to—forcibly disappeared people into secret detention facilities. It is locking people up without trial for long periods in places like Guantánamo or in Iraq or at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. And these are not small matters, I don't need to remind you. These involve some of the most fundamental rights around.
And so it has become effectively unthinkable for the United States to go to a government and protest its torture or to protest its locking up of the latest dissidents without trial.
I remember meeting recently with the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and asking him, "Do you complain about Egypt's use of torture?" He, sort of sheepishly, had to admit, "No, I can't really." And I saw why, because I then went to meet with the Egyptian Prime Minister and mentioned the torture problem. He kind of looked at me and said, "Well, what do you want? That's what Bush does." Now, we all know that that's a cheap excuse, it doesn't excuse anything in reality, but it is a line that helps to deflect the pressure, and it makes pressure from the United States much less real, much less forceful.
This has left, in my view, a tremendous void on the leadership front when it comes to enforcing human rights. It is not a void that I think is necessarily there forever. I don't believe that America's reputation is irredeemable. But it is a void that will be there certainly for the next two years, because it is almost impossible for me to imagine the Bush Administration taking the steps that would be required to begin to change America's reputation around the world. What will be required is not only an end to the practices—stopping the torture, stopping the detention without trial—but a real repudiation of those practices, and ideally some form of accountability—prosecution for the worst offenses, other forms of censure, or the like—to make clear that this is not what America stands for. That is not going to happen under the Bush Administration.
So, at least for the next couple of years, and possibly for longer, we are going to face the problem of traditionally the world's foremost human rights governmental advocate effectively not being there for many of our most serious problems.
So what do we do? Look around the world and see who else might lead. There are a couple of eager candidates out there. China and Russia, they are eager to lead, but in the wrong direction.
China, which is notorious for its "no strings attached" loans and foreign assistance, has been using its new economic wealth to actively undermine Western pressure for, say, transparency in Angola's finances, or for an end to the utterly self-destructive ruling of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or, I guess in most acute form, in Darfur, where President Hu Jintao recently visited, and while mentioning Darfur, and encouraging perhaps that Bashir might consider letting in the UN peacekeepers, at the same time vowed to build a presidential palace—and, of course, the oil money continues to flow, which is the money being used to buy the arms to kill the people in Darfur.
So China, for reasons of economic interest, for reasons of long-term ideology—it really does feel that these are all sovereign matters that are not the business of the international community, in part because of a fairly narrow conception of human rights, that focused on development but not other things, and because it doesn't seem to see the connection between a lack of respect for civil and political rights and the economic devastation in a place like Sudan or Zimbabwe. Also in part, because China I think resents not having been around when many of these treaties were adopted—of course, they were adopted when Taiwan was considered China. So for these various reasons, there is no real eagerness to lead in the direction we would want when it comes to China.
Similarly Russia. I don't need to dwell on Russia. I think we are all aware that Putin is eager to in some sense rebuild the influence that Moscow enjoyed at a time when the Soviet Union still existed. And so he is particularly embracing, say, the dictatorships of Central Asia. When President Karimov of Uzbekistan slaughtered hundreds of people in Andijan, Putin was one of the first people to embrace him, even as Europe and the United States were backing away.
I don't have to go on here, but it is clear that there are some powerful actors who are eager to start leading but who are not going to be leading in the way that we would want.
Now, looking more seriously at who might fill this leadership void, there are a number of democracies outside of the European Union that traditionally have played important roles. I think here about Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein in certain cases. But the difficulty we've had is that a number of these countries are actually fairly ambivalent these days about taking strong stands on human rights because they fear that it will harm their relations with the Bush Administration.
So just to give one example, about ten years ago, Canada and Norway led the effort to create a treaty to outlaw anti-personnel landmines. This time around, when we are beginning a very similar process to adopt a treaty to outlaw cluster munitions, Norway has taken the lead and Canada didn't, because Prime Minister Harper is worried that this is something that Bush doesn't want to happen. You find similar calculations taking place in Australia.
And so, while we do look to a number of these governments as allies, some of their most significant members are ambivalent about talking about the exact issues, the exact rights abuses, where we are most in need, the ones where the Bush Administration is most at fault. So I don't see the non-EU democracies in the West, or the northern democracies, being sufficient.
There are in the global south some democracies that have played a useful role. I think in particular, say, in Latin America Mexico, Argentina, and Chile have become quite reliable supporters of human rights, and in situations like the Human Rights Council in Geneva are playing for the most part useful roles.
But there is another whole group of democracies in the global south—governments like India, South Africa, even Brazil—which have been at best inconsistent supporters of human rights, and at worst outright opponents of human rights enforcement. So you have the spectacle, for example, recently of South Africa voting against the Security Council resolution on Burma, an utterly superfluous vote because Russia and China had already vetoed it; a vote that should have been surprising because, after all, who was a greater beneficiary of international solidarity on human rights issues than South Africa at the time of apartheid? But memories seem to be short, and so when another nation needs international assistance for its severe human rights abuses, South Africa voted with the abusers.
We are running into problems like this over and over, for various reasons. Part of it has to do with the difficulty of African solidarity. The African bloc in UN matters tends to vote together and tends to be led by a number of its most abusive members, with particularly the northern African countries—Egypt, Algeria—playing a very hostile role on human rights issues and often leading the rest of Africa along with it.
So having done this brief tour de raison, I'd like to come to the focus of my talk, which is the European Union, because the truth is if you say, "Okay, the United States has effectively disappeared for human rights enforcement purposes, who is going to take its place?" the logical answer is the European Union. I mean, here you have 27 governments, an economy roughly the same size as the United States, similar population, a long tradition of respect for human rights and the rule of law. Indeed, the European Union is built around this; it has been highly successful at bringing up the human rights standards of its newer members. This is the logical set of nations to step forward. They have the clout. They have the commitment in principle.
But unfortunately, as I'll outline, they don't have the performance, because as you look at the European Union, what you see is a government that is punching well below its weight when it comes to human rights issues. And again, I should put a caveat on this, because the European Union has been very good on human rights issues in the accession process, because its odd consensus approach—meaning that anybody can veto—actually has the effect of raising the bar on accession. You don't get in unless you get everybody's consent. And so it has been very helpful for Romania and Bulgaria most recently or, going back, for Poland, the Czech Republic, et cetera.
But that same dynamic—this quest for consensus, meaning unanimity—has the opposite effect when it comes to the projection of EU influence outside of the immediate would-be accession countries. It is this grappling with how do you set foreign policy with 27 independent members that is really at the heart of the European Union's failure so far to assume the leadership mantle on human rights. Let me, if I could, run though in a little bit more detail why I say that and then I'll open it up for questions.
First, as I mentioned, because the EU Constitution failed, on foreign policy issues unanimity is still required in order for a common position to be determined—on anything, but on foreign policy as well. And so the effect of this is that the European Union is leading by its most reluctant member. The government that is most reluctant to exert pressure for human rights is the government that sets EU policy. That sounds crazy, but that is the way it works.
Just to give one example, on Uzbekistan, the case I just mentioned, the European Union did impose sanctions just after the Andijan massacre, a few months afterwards. Today the government that is most eager to end those sanctions is Germany. Now, if you just took a vote, you would, I think, find overwhelming support for continuing the sanctions because there has been no international investigation, there has been no accountability. In fact, there has just been a crackdown—witnesses were arrested, human rights groups are being shut down, most of the international groups are being kicked out—so things are going backwards quickly. Hardly a moment in which you would send the signal of approval by lifting sanctions.
But Germany, with its US-Politik theory of engaging and all this, wants to settle for a dialogue, conversation, as sufficient progress, and is pushing to lift sanctions. There is a real risk that this will happen because of the lowest-common-denominator approach of the European Union decision making.
The obvious key to this would be to adopt some kind of supermajority decision rule, as the constitution prescribed. I am not here advocating adoption of the constitution en masse—that is going to be difficult—but there are elements of the constitution that I think are absolutely essential if the European Union is to effectively project its potential influence.
Now, to make matters worse, this consensus approach tends to play out in ways that are even worse than it has to be. Let me here cite the UN Human Rights Council—and it's not just the Council; it's going back to the time of the Commission as well. Theoretically, you could say, "Okay, our common position at the European Union is going to be that we want a resolution on Darfur. So, the half-dozen members of the European Union who are at the Council, we direct you to get a resolution on Darfur. Do what it takes." You know, that would be a common position, and it would be one taken at the strategic level, which would make some sense.
But instead, the European Union adopts a common position at the micro level, the micro tactical level. So they literally sit there and edit resolutions together. They don't agree on a common position until they have all signed off on the text, commas and all.
Many of you are familiar with UN negotiations and know that there is a give and take that is required; there is a rapid back and forth; you've got to make split-second decisions. Often, to cut the deal that is needed to get the resolution, you've got to be able to move fast and flexibly.
Needless to say, when for every word change you've got to go back and get 27 governments to sign off on it, that doesn't exactly make you a terribly relevant player in the negotiations leading to a would-be resolution. That is the position that the European Union has put itself in—not by virtue of any constitutional requirement, but rather by virtue of how they have interpreted the consensus requirement to require this micro tactical management.
Another problem with the European Union is its rotating leadership. I think you are all familiar with the fact that every six months you have a new presidency. Now, there is nothing wrong with that in principle because, after all, everybody wants to lead and they're all equal. Again, I am not going to take issue with the idea of having a rotating presidency.
But I will take issue with the practice of always speaking through the presidency and having the presidency be the sole government to deal with the various issues that come up in the course of their six months. This is the opposite of what is required for effective human rights work, because one thing you learn in the human rights business is that if you don't stick with an issue, if you don't understand the nuances and the complexities, you don't get anything done. Abusive governments need to know that you are going to be there month after month, year after year, and you are going to finally wear them down, and that's when they begin to change.
But with the European Union you've got a new presidency coming in every six months. They've got to figure out where is Uzbekistan. They've got to remember what was the Andijan massacre. You know, there is a whole educational process that is the antithesis, frankly, of what is needed to operate effectively.
There is another way to do this. They could continue rotating the presidency, but they could decide that for important issues they will assign someone permanently to the problem. This is done already in the case of Iran, and more recently Somalia, where there are permanent troikas. A troika is actually the structure they put around the presidency, so it is the current presidency, the next presidency, and then kind of a Commission staffer stuck on as well.
But, rather than having this rotating troika of the recently arrived, you could actually develop permanent troikas of the most influential or the most knowledgeable or the most committed and deploy them on an ongoing basis. So you could have a permanent troika on Darfur, a permanent troika on China. The presidency you could still rotate, but these people would be there as the EU representatives for the long term. That would develop the expertise and the stickiness that is required to get things done. But it's not the way the European Union is choosing to operate at the moment.
To make matters worse—you know, I've described the tendency of the common position to be the lowest common denominator—when you go to individual governments and say, "Well, okay, the European Union as a whole, their common position may be to do hardly anything, but why don't you go a little bit more yourself? Why does that common position have to be the maximum position?"
But there is a tendency on the part of EU members—and this is, frankly, a tendency of convenience—to treat the common position as a ceiling rather than as a floor, as the most that will be done rather than as the least that will be done. So this, again, accentuates the weakness of the EU foreign policy process.
Then finally, to top it all off, much of what I describe here takes place in back rooms in Brussels. Human rights issues are inherently difficult for governments because they bump up against other issues—commercial interests or diplomatic interests or what have you—and there is a natural tendency of governments to want to subordinate human rights concerns for other interests that they see as more important.
One antidote to that is to open up the process, because what I have seen over and over is that governments tend to behave better on human rights when they are being scrutinized by their public. But because so much of this is done behind closed doors, because there is so little tradition of transparency in the European Union, this weak approach to human rights tends to be perpetuated.
Now, to give you just a few examples of how this plays out—and then I'll welcome your questions—let me just quickly run through four of I think the most pressing human rights problems facing the European Union today: Darfur, China, Russia, and the United States.
Darfur: The European Union has still not agreed to targeted sanctions against any leaders other than the four who have been agreed upon by the Security Council. The four here are, shall we say, pretty low-level people, and only two of them are even on the governmental side. So the basic step of imposing travel restrictions, or seizing assets, the most obvious things you do, the least controversial form of sanctions, the European Union has not taken with respect to Darfur. It is missing an obvious way to put pressure on the Sudanese government to allow the UN peacekeepers into Darfur, which in my view is the most important step that could be taken right now to stop the killing.
The Treasury Department in the United States is currently toying with the idea of imposing banking sanctions with respect to Sudan, similar to what was done in North Korea. That is to say it would block any oil payments to Sudan that go directly to the government and would insist that they go to an escrow account, where essentially they would be spent on humanitarian purposes for the Sudanese but not on military hardware. This, if it were ever adopted, would be extremely effective in putting pressure in Khartoum. But the Treasury Department is reluctant because there is the euro escape hatch, which requires the European Union to cooperate with us, and so far it hasn't. Indeed, the European Union hasn't even been putting pressure on China to put pressure on Khartoum, which is again an obvious route to getting things done.
With respect to Russia, I talked briefly about German US-Politik, which is as dominant with respect to Russia as it is with respect to Uzbekistan. This is despite the fact that Putin has done everything he could to show that an unaccountable government is a bad business partner, that a government that is not subject to the rule of law and to the ordinary constraints of democratic institutions is a government that will, when convenient, shut off oil or gas to Belarus or Ukraine or Georgia or whomever. That is not the kind of energy security that you want in the long term. But, rather than recognize that energy security would actually be promoted by efforts to promote democratic accountability in Russia, there is the sense that those two are somehow antithetical and you can't push too hard on democracy or you might sacrifice your energy.
That view, the false view, is the one that is dominant in European capitals today. It doesn't even matter, frankly, that it is dominant in all capitals. It is dominant in Berlin. Because of the lowest-common-denominator approach, that is blocking a tougher EU position.
With respect to China, this is a good illustration of the problem of having these rotating troikas, because the European Union has a periodic human rights dialogue with China, and China has figured out that you should put the same people there every time, that if they remember what happened at the last dialogue, they are much better at deflecting criticism than if they have never been into a dialogue and they are showing up for the first time, or maybe the second time. So while the European Union sends this rotating set of interlocutors to these dialogues, the Chinese have the same guys there every time. And guess who does the better in these conversations?
And then, with respect to the United States, finally the European Union is speaking out about, say, the need to close Guantánamo. They are talking about torture. But there has been a real reluctance to take some of the steps that would, I think, really help to put an end to these practices.
With respect to Guantánamo, we have been pushing Europe to offer a deal to the United States. The United States is very concerned about at this point fifty people who it wants to release but doesn't have anyplace to send them, either because they are Yemeni and the Yemenis have disowned them, or because they come from a country that practices torture and it would be inappropriate send them back. The United States wants help in resettling these people.
So in our view, if Europe is serious about shutting Guantánamo, it should offer to help resettle these people in return for a commitment from the United States to shut the facility, a quid pro quo. And shutting the facility means basically prosecute with a fair trial, not the substandard military commissions, anybody who really committed a crime and release everybody else. But that would require a certain sacrifice on Europe's part, and so it has been reluctant to take this stand.
Similarly, on the question of torture and rendition, there have been a few studies and the like. At the national level, there have been these prosecutions now in Italy; there are efforts in Spain. But for the most part Europe has been sort of passively investigating these things. The Council of Europe, obviously a separate institution, appointed the Swiss lawyer Dick Marty, who never had subpoena powers, who never had any prospect of getting to the bottom of the rendition question.
The European Union, which does have the capacity to put real pressure on its members, has never pushed hard to get past the blanket Polish denials that Poland ever had a secret detention facility on its soil. It has just sort of accepted the summary "No" and willingly moved on.
Indeed, in the case of Britain, Britain is even pushing for these so-called memoranda of understanding, which would be a piece of paper that would justify sending people back to a country that tortures, even though the monitoring regime that Britain is proposing is an utter joke, because you can't really walk up to a prisoner who just emerged from the torture chamber and say, "How did they treat you?" No one answers those questions honestly.
So there is just a series of problems in the way that Europe is going about this. Some of this has to do with just national self-interest, but some of it has to do with a real lack of leadership within Europe itself, particularly on these tough questions when national interests are at stake, and it's very difficult to overcome a Poland or a Germany or a United Kingdom which is setting too low a standard for the European Union.
Let me sum up just by saying there is an enormous gap right now on the human rights front. I wish I could be more optimistic about Europe stepping into the void, but Europe has got a lot of work to do to get its act together. I don't know which is going to happen more quickly, Europe succeeding in developing an effective foreign policy mechanism or the United States recognizing what an utter disaster the Bush Administration's approach has been to fighting terrorism and changing course. I would like to see both happen—both are absolutely essential—but currently neither is happening very quickly.
So on that somewhat pessimistic note, let me stop and welcome your questions.
Questions and Answers:
QUESTION: Just a couple of comments. The way you talk about leadership, you talk, of course, about leadership on public censorship really. You are talking about publicly criticizing states, in particular. I think the United States has played a big role on that in the past. It is certainly much more difficult for it to do it now.
But it is also important to have leadership on issues, like on counter-terrorism, on impunity, on issues that you have mentioned—disappearances, torture, and so on. The United States has never played a leading role on those in the past. They have certainly subscribed to the standards, but the United States has not ratified many of the treaties, for example. So that is not leadership that we have lost.
I don't want to talk much about the European Union because I am not a member. I certainly am familiar with what they do and their difficulties. But I think there is one very important element missing in what you have said, namely that the fact that the United States currently has the human rights record that it does have also makes it more difficult for allies of the United States to take a credible stance on human rights, because if you come out now and you present a resolution, for example—it doesn't matter, on any given country—then you are very likely to be criticized for double standards and for saying, "Well, where is your position on Guantánamo? Why do you not present a resolution on Guantánamo?" This is not something the European Union can do. And far from that, they cannot even collectively support that. So the European Union and other allies have a problem, sort of a proxy problem, through the United States.
And also, on an issue, for example, like Darfur, I just believe we need different sorts of alliances. It is not the best thing if the United States leads on Darfur or if Canada leads on Darfur or whoever it is. What we need is at least a strong commitment from a country like Nigeria or Ghana or whoever it is, a country in the region, that says, "What is going on in Darfur is not acceptable to us."
It doesn't make much sense to have a human rights mission sent to Darfur that is headed by Jody Williams, quite frankly. I just think that is perception-wise wrong. I mean I don't have anything against Jody Williams. I think she is a great activist. But it would be better to have that mission led by someone from the region. And you do need support from those that are more directly affected than we are. It is very important to have a more collective leadership that is not an exclusively Western leadership in the future.
KENNETH ROTH: You mentioned a number of points. Let me quickly respond.
First, with respect to Europe's historic role on treaties, Europe has been much more supportive in the treaty process—and not only treaties setting standards, but also enforcement-type treaties, like the International Criminal Court Treaty.
I think, though, despite the traditional U.S. reluctance to ratify anything, where the United States has nonetheless played a more important role is in enforcing those treaties. Indeed, even on the question of impunity, it seems to have gotten over its allergy against the International Criminal Court, and has been playing a constructive role in northern Uganda, in Darfur, and eastern Congo. More broadly, if you say, "How did Charles Taylor get surrendered?" it was really U.S. pressure in the end that was key.
When it comes to that enforcement question, I have always seen the United States as being more important than Europe. I would like Europe to play more of a role in enforcement, but it hasn't been that effective so far.
I completely agree that U.S. misconduct weakens any enforcement effort, because there is always this cheap excuse, "Well, the United States is doing it," and even the double standard excuse.
My answer to this was have a resolution on Guantánamo. I realize this is somehow sacrilege, that the idea of Europe criticizing the United States formally like that is difficult. But it is precisely what is needed, and it would go a long way toward helping generate the pressure to shut Guantánamo. Europe is at this point saying this. Why not translate it into a resolution? It would help overcome some of those questions.
On Darfur, yes, we obviously do need African leadership. Indeed, there has been quite a bit of African leadership, in that at least the African Union is there. But I don't think the answer is then just to wait for the African leaders to emerge. I think that Europe has a key role to play in finding those leaders and bolstering them to break from the common African position, because we are all aware that this African bloc has been stifling a number of African governments that have actually much more pro human rights policies than their bloc voting would indicate.
I think where Europe could play a real role would be in liberating those countries from the bloc. I can think of probably nothing more important than that in terms of making it possible for the Human Rights Council to succeed.
QUESTION: I'm going to try to defend the United States. I understand that the role of an NGO is to criticize government and to motivate communities, and it is a very important role. I also think it is a good thing that a U.S. human rights NGO criticizes its own government before it criticizes others. However, I do think you understate the role that the United States is currently playing. You mentioned Burma, for example. The United States led on Burma.
In relation to Darfur, the United States is leading in Darfur. No one is going to send troops into Darfur without the agreement of the Bashir government, and that is just the current reality. So the issue is: How can you put sufficient pressure on Bashir without undermining the humanitarian efforts that are taking place in Darfur? That is a complicated issue, but it is the United States that is actually leading on the issue.
In relation to the gross human rights abuses that are occurring in Afghanistan, who has responded foremost against those abuses? It has been the United States. And so I could go on.
In relation to Guantánamo Bay, in some ways the United States in my view has been a victim of circumstances there. My only objection to Guantánamo is that what was found was there was an inadequate set of laws and mechanisms for trying those who were in Guantánamo Bay. That inadequacy is one that has obviously existed for a long time, because this is the first incidence in recent times when the adequacy of those laws was put to the test.
We have one Australian, for example, who is still in Guantánamo Bay, been there now for four or five years. He actually comes from my hometown. My only complaint about him is that he has been there for four or five years and he hasn't been brought to trial. But he hasn't been brought to trial because when it came to the crunch, as you did indicate, the tribunals didn't stand the test of law, and there is still debate about whether the new laws that have been put in place will be adequate in themselves.
The fellow who is there actually wants to go to trial. Australia wants him to go to trial, wants the matter to be resolved. The United States would like to see the matter resolved as well. But because of what is in fact a structural failure, it hasn't occurred. Therefore, I say it is being a victim of circumstances.
I could go on around the world. So criticizing your own government is a good thing, because standards must improve, and even I would have trouble in trying to defend the rendition processes. It will be an interesting exercise for scholars in the future to look back and see how that occurred, what sort of failure within administrative structures allowed that mechanism to be put in place and implemented. I think there is a real story in that for the future.
I do criticize when criticism really is due, but I think we should also keep things in perspective.
KENNETH ROTH: When I opened, I tried to clarify that I am not saying that the United States never can credibly promote human rights. When the human right involved is something that the United States doesn't violate, the United States can credibly pursue the matter. So of course it can deal with Darfur because the United States is not running around slaughtering people on ethnic grounds. Of course it can deal with the traditional pariah states of North Korea or Burma because these are questions of a complete lack of democracy, and nobody is going to challenge whether the United States is a democracy. So there areas where the United States can continue to deal with human rights issues.
But it cannot address torture or arbitrary detention or disappearances. And indeed, if you look at the rhetoric of the United States, it is very rare that they even talk in terms of human rights. They talk in terms of democracy, which is something they are not going to be called hypocritical about. It also has the advantage of being sort of a fuzzier word and is not as subject to charges of "how can you talk about that when you're violating this or that provision?" which would come up when you talk in terms of human rights.
On Guantánamo, I have to correct you there a little bit. This is not a question of circumstance. If the United States wanted to try David Hicks or any of the other 400 people in Guantánamo, there is a perfectly acceptable structure that has been in place this entire time. It's called a court martial, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It has been widely accepted, approved by the Supreme Court many, many times. Human rights groups are completely satisfied with it. It is there. The United States chooses not to use it.
Instead it has put forward these substandard military commissions, mainly because it wants to cover up its torture. The entire purpose of the military commissions is to make it possible to introduce evidence that was coerced from a suspect and to prevent questions about the interrogation technique by calling it classified. That's what this whole dispute is about.
The only difference of substance between the military commissions and courts martial are the provisions that will allow the United States to get away with introducing coerced testimony. This is something that no one should stand up for.
It ultimately is going to fail, because either they are going to not introduce the testimony because they are so afraid to; or if they do, it is going to get challenged in the courts and the United States is going to lose. So it will prolong things further.
But this is not a matter of circumstance. This is a matter of cover up.
QUESTION: I have two questions. How important is the threat of force by a friendly government for organizations like you when fighting for human rights? Because the United States has shown a great willingness to intervene while the European Union is more reluctant, does this play a role when the European Union is supposed to take the lead?
And do you see this debate actually taking place in the European Union? Is the European Union actually aware of the fact that they are supposed to lead now in human rights matters?
KENNETH ROTH: Taking your second question first, I think that there is a broad awareness in Europe that the European Union is punching below its weight, that it is not exerting the influence that it should have on human rights or a number of other issues that require projecting that influence beyond the territory of the European Union. So yes, indeed, part of the impetus for the new constitution was to overcome some of those shortcomings. The constitution failed, and now I think there is a grappling with how do you move forward incrementally to address some of these problems.
In terms of force, let me divide your question into two parts, if I could. There is consensual force, force that is welcomed by the government in question, of the peacekeeping variety; and then there is invasion.
When it comes to consensual force, the European Union has traditionally been a major proponent of classic peacekeeping, the blue helmet Chapter 6 version. We get less and less of that these days. And increasingly, even UN-authorized operations are fighting operations—not fighting against the central government, but fighting against some kind of forces, Afghanistan being the perfect example of that.
There is, I think, broad recognition that the European Union has not invested in the lift capacity, basically the development of troops, sufficient to carry out those tasks. You know, France and the United Kingdom do have troops of that sort, and then you get small elements elsewhere. I think there is recognition that this is a shortcoming. I know this is something that Washington is pushing all the time.
I'm not seeing a lot of change in reality. You know, Germany is evolving, is more willing to play this role, but even in Afghanistan it is staying safely in the north and is avoiding the real combat in the south. So there is that kind of operation with the central government's authority or consent.
As for invasion, I don't see the European Union willing to invade or threaten to invade at all at this stage. Human Rights Watch is maybe unusual among human rights groups in that we do at times advocate humanitarian intervention—that is, nonconsensual invasion for human rights purposes. We have done it in the case of Bosnia; we did it in Rwanda. But it is a concept that has been misused.
Iraq, which belatedly the Bush Administration tried to justify as a humanitarian intervention, I don't think can be justified. That is a longer story. I'd be happy to get into that privately. But there I see no real willingness by Europe to do this. I think the whole Iraq debacle has made everybody even less willing to do it.
So you have the emergence of this responsibility to protect concept, but real reluctance to use it in anything other than the consensual Security Council-authorized way.
QUESTION: Just one quick point on Darfur and then two short questions.
First of all, those of you who heard Jan Eliasson on PBS last night or at the Security Council are aware that he and Salim Salim are really working very hard not only to get the deployment of the troops which you mentioned, but, even more importantly, to get the peace process going again in Abuja. So I think a lot more is going on than perhaps in your remarks you referred to. I wondered if you would elaborate a little more on whether you think those are useful initiatives.
This morning's New York Times reports in the middle of the front section on the annual State Department Report to the Congress on Human Rights, with a remark by the Assistant Secretary of State—something I mentioned to you before we started—along the lines of recognizing the United States itself is being criticized for human rights violations by other countries. I wonder whether you think this report has any value or credibility at all; and, if so, what that value is.
My other question is about the role of the U.S. Senate, and as a matter of fact the opposition, the Democratic Party, all these people who are out on the stumps these days—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and so on and so forth. I haven't heard a word from any of them about human rights, or Guantánamo, or rendition, that you mentioned. Did you feel that the Senate has also failed on human rights issues by acquiescing in these commissions?
KENNETH ROTH: There's a lot there.
On Darfur, obviously there is a value to the Abuja peace process. Of course, if you could stop the fighting that would help enormously. Pending that, the real issue is: What will it take to coerce consent out of Khartoum? As was said, nobody is going to invade Darfur; that's not on the agenda. So the question is: How do you force Khartoum to consent?
The key to this, I think, is above all China. China is blocking Security Council pressure. China is the major source of revenue. I do feel we need to pay more attention to China's foreign policy. I don't think it's a lost cause. China is quite attentive to its international reputation. I don't think it wants to be seen as the supporter of thugs and murderers around the world.
At Human Rights Watch, we have assigned somebody now and we are beginning to treat China the way we would treat the European Union or Berlin or Paris or London, as a foreign policy interlocutor as well as a source of domestic concern. This is a long-term project, but one that I don't think is hopeless, because I think China is trying to find some accommodation between its sort of instinctive reluctance to enforce human rights standards and its desire to be a responsible global citizen. We are trying to move it more in the responsible direction.
With respect to the State Department report, I do think it is an important report. If you go back to its early days under Carter and Reagan, it was a highly politicized document. It then went through many years in which it was quite objective, and today still for the most part is objective. There were a few things yesterday—I haven't read the whole thing; it's obviously thousands of pages—but there were a few disturbing variations from this history of objectivity.
First of all, you won't find anything in there about the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, other than a cursory reference to cluster bombs. But the fact that Israel was indiscriminately bombing large parts of southern Lebanon and that the principal cause of civilian death in southern Lebanon was not Hezbollah hiding in civilian villages but rather Israel deciding that anybody who hadn't fled was fair game for attack was not even mentioned in the report.
There are other places where it's almost ludicrous reading it. The guy who was picked up in Milan, was picked up by—I think "foreign agents" is the term they used. I mean which world are we operating in here?
The Arar case was written in a way that suggests that Canada just didn't understand what this case was really about.
I saw this as actually a dangerous reversion to kind of the Reagan-era tendency to politicize the reporting.
That said, it is useful once a year to state what human rights practice is around the world. Traditionally, my problem has been that this is a one-day policy and that the other 364 days there is little inclination to do much about it, with the exception of the obvious Burma or North Korea.
This year you've got the added problem of credibility. And so even if you had the political will, it is not clear that there is the capacity in light of the credibility problems.
Finally, in terms of the Democrats, obviously the military commissions were set up under the last Congress, when the Republicans still controlled the Senate and the House. The new Congress is going slowly on these issues. They have introduced some bills trying to remedy some of the worst defects of the past, in particular on habeas corpus. I think the Democrats are probably genuine in terms of trying to get as much as they can. The difficulty is getting the 60 votes you need to get past a filibuster in the Senate, and that is a very real obstacle.
So what I see is not indifference, but rather a kind of calculation as to what can they put forward that would build a sufficient coalition involving some Republicans that they can get this stuff through. The concern is really less a veto, because they can always attach the bill to some basically un-vetoable bill. The real issue is the filibuster threat in the Senate.
QUESTIONER: Did you want to comment on the candidates at all?
KENNETH ROTH: Of the candidates, who's talking about this? Well, it's still very early on. I guess my concern, reflected with my talk today, is which candidate can redeem America's reputation. If we are imagining a future President So-and-So, who is going to have both the desire to address these issues and the credibility to be seen as having addressed them effectively?
I see possibilities on both sides of the aisle. We're a nonpartisan organization, so you're not going to get me kind of endorsing people here. I think there are possibilities on both sides. But it still is very early and it is unclear. I think none of the candidates have really committed themselves in this area.
QUESTION: I know how cumbersomely the system works. We are, together with France, to blame for the rejection of the constitutional treaty. It will take time, I agree. It is cumbersome. It will take time to find incremental ways to improve the system. I think it will take more time than for the United States to restore its reputation, as you said. My guess is that after the next election here in the States that will happen, whoever wins so to speak.
Two questions. One is: How would you define leadership? Is it setting the good example; that is one option? The other one is pressuring other countries. There is a big difference between the two.
My second short question is: Probably the United States is not putting its candidacy for the Human Rights Council again this year. Do you think that is a good decision or a bad decision?
KENNETH ROTH: In terms of leadership, obviously setting a good example is a critical part of that, because you can't preach what you don't practice. That's the credibility problem of the United States. But I wouldn't settle for just being the sterling example on the hill who otherwise ignores the rest of the world. What is needed is pressure effectively applied outside of one's borders.
Europe has its own internal problems, but for the most part sets a decent example, certainly one that has not been as tarnished as the United States in recent years. But it is not projecting, and I look for that projection of influence in the form of statements, of diplomatic pressure, of economic pressure, of sometimes providing peacekeepers. There is a range of tools that Europe is not consistently deploying.
In terms of the U.S. candidacy, I would have been happier if the United States had run, because I think that the Human Rights Council is in big trouble. I haven't given up on it by any means, but it needs intensive care. I think we would have been more likely to be able to provide that intensive care with the United States formally inside the tent rather than trying resuscitate from outside.
For me the major problem is if you look at the Human Rights Council, there are roughly the same number of confirmed defenders of human rights and confirmed opponents of any human rights enforcement. There then are eight or nine or ten swing states that can go either way. So those people who say the Council is hopeless I think aren't counting right. If you look at the swing states, those states could be voting with the pro-human-rights governments. If they did, you could salvage the Council.
The problem is that I think there has been ineffective outreach to those governments, certainly insufficient outreach to overcome the bloc tendency, because right now the combination of the OIC [Organization of the Islamic Conference] and the tendency of the African governments to vote as a bloc has meant that the opponents of human rights enforcement are winning time and time again and are quite deliberately destroying the institution.
So I think the key is to provide enough incentives and security for particularly some of these African states that should be pro human rights, that certainly by their domestic behavior would suggest that they are pro human rights, to increase their discontent with being represented by the likes of Algeria or Egypt. I think that possibility is there, but it is going to require intensive diplomatic action. With the United States not formally inside the tent, that means more of the burden to do that kind of diplomatic outreach is going to fall on Europe.
JOANNE MYERS: Ken, I thank you very much for what I anticipated to be a wonderful morning. Thank you.