Memo to Washington: take a long, hard look at your own rights record

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2006, 12:00am

Around this time every year, Washington releases a report condemning China's human rights violations, prompting Beijing to react swiftly and angrily to reject the criticism and issue its own report detailing US human right abuses.

While the media may have a field day with headline news on Beijing and Washington attacking each other, the usual tit-for-tat responses are not helpful at all for improving China's human rights record or overall bilateral ties between the two countries.

Since 1977, Washington has published an annual report mandated by the US Congress to review the human rights records of nearly 200 countries across the world, except its own.

The report had usually been ignored by most of the countries it referred to until it began to highlight China's human rights violations in recent years.

In its latest report, it names China as one of the seven countries that allegedly subjected their citizens 'to a wholesale deprivation of their basic rights'.

'These states range from closed, totalitarian systems that subject their citizens to a wholesale deprivation of their basic rights, to authoritarian systems in which the exercise of basic rights is severely restricted,' it said. In response, the State Council's Information Office released a report of more than 14,500 Chinese characters, assailing the US for its high murder rate, secret wire tapping, police abuses, high poverty rate, wrongful convictions and detention of Iraqi reporters by US forces in Iraq.

This is the seventh consecutive year that China has issued such a report.

'We urge the US government to look squarely at its own human rights problems, reflect on what it has done in the human rights field and take concrete measures to improve its own human rights status,' Xinhua quoted the report as saying.

Indeed. The US has been increasingly criticised on human rights issues, including indefinite detention of terror suspects and the alleged torture of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base.

That explains why more and more people have become cynical of the way that Washington plays the world's righteous enforcer of human rights standards.

Of course, I am not defending China's human rights record here, which is very poor indeed.

But Washington has simply lost the moral justification to criticise other countries for human right abuses while failing to address its own.

Washington should quit this practice and leave the job to independent human rights monitors like Amnesty International.

A better solution is to engage Beijing more in dialogue over human rights publicly while quietly pressing it to release political prisoners, and encouraging mainlanders to join the debate.

The real improvements to China's human rights situation can only come from within.