On the 10th of December 1948, the United Nations’ General Assembly approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which we now commemorate as International Human Rights day. Human rights refer to the universal, intrinsic, and inalienable rights granted to all individuals regardless of nationality, sex, ethnicity, race, or social status. Yet, history has witnessed how it has been hallowed out and violated by governments and corporations.
The United States (US), in particular, has consistently professed their longstanding support and compliance to the UDHR. They also insist on having a “tradition of respecting and protecting human rights, both at home and abroad.” According to the US Department of State, the incumbent Biden-Harris administration is “committed to putting human rights and democratic principles at the center of [their] foreign policy.”
But this runs in stark contrast to several of US’ running policies such as their financial support of Saudi Arabia’s air raids against Yemen which has injured and killed civilians in tens of thousands. Their benevolent neglect of Saudi’s fuel embargo against Yemen add evidence to the irony of their foreign policy given the health and hunger crisis this blockade has aggravated.
Additionally, the US military, around a month ago, finally claimed that they were behind the 2019 airstrike in Baghuz, Syria which killed over 70 people. Evidence shows that the casualties were mostly women and children. US Central Command spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban finds this justified due to the presence of several armed combatants in the area but says that “the exact mixture of armed and unarmed personnel could not be conclusively determined.”
Make no mistake, these are not isolated cases. The existence of hundreds of overseas military bases, thousands of troops deployed abroad, regular joint-military exercises, increased military funding for their allies, and the militarization of development aid almost guarantee their involvement in countless war crimes and human rights violations across the globe. As a country that reaps gross benefits from the military-industrial complex, the US has developed a taste for war and aggression as it generates profits, solidifies power, and amplifies global influence.
The increasingly aggressive military posturing and concentration of first world armed forces in Asia has compromised the ability of countries within the region to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to growing internal and external tensions, nations in the Global South are allocating a significant portion of their national budget to their defense capabilities. Meanwhile, the health sector has been left to struggle against the pandemic with inadequate State funding. India, for example, allocated around 4.8 trillion Rupees ($63.7 B) in 2020-2021 for their defense budget, while their healthcare expenditure during the same time was only at 1.1 trillion Rupees ($14.6 B). The same story can be seen with the Philippines’ 2020 defense budget being billions of pesos higher than the budget of its Department of Health. Indonesia’s 2022 state budget also features 96 trillion Rupiahs ($6.7 B) for their Ministry of Health, while the Ministry of Defense and the National Police received a combined 245 trillion Rupiahs ($16.9 B).
The United States’ expansionist agenda also hurts their own people. The US Department of State released a document which calls out other governments for their skewed COVID-19 response. However, they fail to mention how President Biden’s COVID stimulus package’s projected cost sits at $1.9 Trillion which pales in comparison to the Pentagon’s $8.31 Trillion over the next 10 years. There are hundreds of thousands of Americans affected by the pandemic but Biden prioritizes military and defense over the people’s welfare. The same document goes on to say “[s]ome governments have abused or enacted laws to silence, target, and harass members of civil society under the guise of public health needs.” This statement is indeed correct, but the US government should be reminded that they are one of the primary suspects in using and promoting these corrosive tactics. In fact, the playbook against counterinsurgency in other countries comes from the US in the forms of military and police funding and training. One cannot claim to promote peace while actively investing and benefiting from warfare.
The US Department of State mentions that “human rights respecting democracies are more peaceful, prosperous, stable.” But, for this to come from a nation that has amassed wealth and power through wars of aggression, military invasions, and proxy wars, it is very hypocritical.
Many in the Global South are more than aware of this. These wars and unpeace have been their reality for generations. Movements from these poor countries continue to advocate and promote genuine human rights based on just and lasting peace.
As we commemorate the International Human Rights Day this coming December 10, let us support and link arms with movements advancing people’s rights.
People’s rights not only encompass rights of the individual but recognize the collective rights of communities and peoples. It captures the rights held by the people in common, including civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. These rights must be asserted and defended in order to be fully realized. Moreso, peoples’ rights cannot be realised as long as there are nations and people under direct and indirect colonial subjugation. People’s rights recognizes the liberation of nations from foreign economic and political intervention and military occupation.
Progressive organizations, such as Karapatan from the Philippines, recognize that their movement for human rights will only be genuine and truly pro-people if it goes hand-in-hand with an uncompromising anti-imperialist campaign.
Let us be clear that it is not the US and its imperialist allies that stand as beacons of human rights. Instead, it is the people united in struggle that carry that mantle. It is the militant protests against US bases and troops in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Hawai’i and many other countries. It is the organized rejection of US-led military agreements in the region such as the Quadrilateral Alliance (QUAD) and Australia-United Kingdom-US Pact (AUKUS). It is the indigenous people fighting for sovereignty against militarized land grabs in India, the Philippines, West Papua, Australia, New Zealand, Hawai’i, the Marshall Islands, Guam and all across the Pacific. These are the movements for genuine human rights that should be celebrated on International Human Rights Day.
We must dismantle the deceptive facade of imperialists as protectors of human rights and expose them as war criminals and supporters of the global war economy. There is no better way to honor the people than to join their struggle to hold the US accountable for their crimes.
- UN OHCHR. “OHCHR | What Are Human Rights.” Ohchr.org, 2013, ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx.
- US Department of State. Guidelines for U.S. Diplomatic Mission Support to Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders. 29 Nov. 2021.
- Yemen Data Project. “Methodology.” Yemendataproject.org, yemendataproject.org/methodology-1.html.
- Sheline, Annelle, and Bruce Riedel. “Biden’s Broken Promise on Yemen.” Brookings, 16 Sept. 2021, www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/09/16/bidens-broken-promise-on-yemen/.
- CNN, Nima Elbagir, Barbara Arvanitidis, Angela Dewan, Nada Bashir and Yousef Mawry, CNN Video by Alex Platt and Mark Baron. “Famine Has Arrived in Pockets of Yemen. Saudi Ships Blocking Fuel Aren’t Helping.” CNN, edition.cnn.com/2021/03/10/middleeast/yemen-famine-saudi-fuel-intl/index.html.
- Borger, Julian. “US Claims 2019 Airstrike That Hit Syrian Women and Children Was Justified.” The Guardian, 14 Nov. 2021, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/nov/14/us-confirms-2019-airstrike-hit-crowd-of-syrian-women-and-children.
- Vine, David. “Where in the World Is the U.S. Military?” POLITICO Magazine, Aug. 2015, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/us-military-bases-around-the-world-119321/\.
- Cronk, Terri. “U.S. Forces Work with Partners in Numerous Military Exercises.” U.S. Department of Defense, 17 July 2017, www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/1250003/us-forces-work-with-partners-in-numerous-military-exercises/.
- Reality of Aid – Asia Pacific. RealityCheck | Aid & Militarism: Unpacking Peacekeeping & Security Efforts in Asia. 2017.
- Weber, Rachel. “Military-Industrial Complex.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/military-industrial-complex.
- Rajagopalan, Rajeswari. “Asian Military Spending: A Sign of Worsening Security Environment.” Thediplomat.com, 4 Mar. 2021, thediplomat.com/2021/03/asian-military-spending-a-sign-of-worsening-security-environment/.
- Choudhury, Saheli Roy. “India to Double Health-Care Spending to $30 Billion in New Budget Aimed at Reviving Growth.” CNBC, 1 Feb. 2021, www.cnbc.com/2021/02/01/india-budget-health-care-infrastructure-and-fiscal-deficit.html.
- Department of Budget and Management. “President Duterte Signs P4.1 Trillion 2020 National Budget.” Dbm.gov.ph, 6 Jan. 2020, www.dbm.gov.ph/index.php/secretary-s-corner/press-releases/list-of-press-releases/1589-president-duterte-signs-p4-1-trillion-2020-national-budget.
- Guild, James. “Breaking down Indonesia’s 2022 State Budget.” Thediplomat.com, 19 Oct. 2021, thediplomat.com/2021/10/breaking-down-indonesias-2022-state-budget/. Accessed 5 Dec. 2021.
- Swagel, Phillip. Potential Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Effects of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. 25 Feb. 2021.
- US 117th Congress. HEN21B52 93N. 2021.
- USA Facts. “Coronavirus Live Map | US Coronavirus Cases by County.” USAFacts, usafacts.org/visualizations/coronavirus-covid-19-spread-map/.
- US Department of State. UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT INTERAGENCY COUNTERINSURGENCY INITIATIVE COUNTERINSURGENCY GUIDE. 2009.