New forms of cooperation needed for human rights protection
I worked in our embassy in London twice – in the 1970s and 1980s. I visited Britain again recently and brought home new impressions of that country. In general, I like Brits a lot. Many things about their way of life are worthy of recognition and respect; however, the government’s human rights policy is not one of them.
On this point I’d like to say a few words about the striking tone of a report titled “Human Rights & Democracy: The 2010 FCO Report.” The first few sentences conjured up in my mind the image of a wise man holding forth, speaking truth for all to hear. I knew this man, but his image had faded in my memory over the years. Thankfully, this wonderful FCO opus resurrected his image in all its glory. I recalled that Josef Stalin wrote in much the same tone, albeit in Russian – the same rigid and dogmatic pronouncements, with the same lack of “unnecessary” evidence, the same eagerness to educate the people, and the same conviction that all opposing views are wrong.
The document is a pretentious ode to Britain’s contribution to world civilization. In this case, the contribution is to the protection of human rights all over the world. On page 83 of the report we find this sentence: “The UK is also playing a leading role in the international fight against bribery and corruption, including work through the G20, to help China and Russia to hold their companies to account,” and so on. The authors’ acknowledgment that the UK faces its own problems on this count does not diminish the generally optimistic view on London’s merits. This is a good example of how to take pride in the achievements of one’s own country and how to “educate” other nations.
It would be interesting to see how the British public and officials would react to a similar report by the Russian side about human rights in Britain. What would they think about similarly strident pronouncements from Russian foreign ministry experts regarding Britain’s relations with its immigrants from the Third World or the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland?
But let’s return to the FCO report. It enumerates problems related to democratic elections, freedom of the press, fighting corruption, and abuse of power by the police and other government bodies, shortcomings in the operation of democratic institutions that can be found in practically any country. It should be noted that the Russian authorities, including top government officials, and non-government organizations acknowledge the existence of these problems and are working, with varying degrees of success, to overcome them.
The report’s emphasis on certain human rights issues is telling. In the beginning of the Russian section, and then repeatedly throughout the section, the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev is invoked. The authors maintain that this trial “was widely condemned for failing to adhere to basic standards of justice.” I don’t think the Russian public shares this opinion – even the Russians who criticize authorities. On the contrary, a majority of remarks on the problem reflect dissatisfaction with the scarcity of big corruption trials.
Some provisions of the report offend the moral and ethical values of Russian society, for instance its lamentations over Moscow’s ban on parades for sexual minorities. To substantiate its criticism, the report notes that “the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the persistent banning of gay rights demonstrations violated the right to freedom of assembly.” This passage illustrates the moral values of those who take it upon themselves to educate Russians. Our society has an interest in promoting family values and increasing the birth rate, despite calls from outside the country to allow dubious “shows” for certain people. The Christian and Muslim faiths, Russia’s two main religions, are emphatically negative in their attitude to sexual minorities.
Maybe, before taking it upon themselves to educate others, the Brits should deal with the problems in their own society, especially with respect to the human rights of people and their destinies in other countries.
Here’s one issue pertaining to the recent past. The number one human right is the right to life. Citizens of Iraq are no exception to this rule, and yet their right to life has been flagrantly violated by the invasion of the coalition forces. The British prime minister relied on falsified evidence of Saddam Hussein’s alleged stock of weapons of mass destruction to persuade the public to invade Iraq. These weapons were never found, but the international community and the British public have displayed amazing tact toward the architects of the military campaign against Iraq, a sovereign country, albeit with a revolting leader.
Such facts should prompt British politicians to seek out new forms of cooperation with other countries in the sphere of human rights protection. The publication of opinionated and paternalistic reports does not correspond to the realities of the emerging multi-polar world and the principle of respectful partnership with other nations.
Andrei Baklanov is Head of the International Affairs Department of the Federal Assembly’s Federation Council, Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Russian Diplomats Association