US ‘human rights diplomacy’ defined by oligarchs and lobbies

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United States, White House, Human rights

Recent weeks have witnessed a surge of protests across university campuses in the United States, met with significant suppression from authorities. At the University of Pennsylvania, six students were arrested after attempting to occupy a campus hall late on a Friday night. Similarly, at the University of California, police dismantled a student encampment that had stood for more than two weeks, arresting 47 protesters. These actions by the US Congress, the White House, and mainstream media, which have systematically suppressed student protests, underscore the domestic contradictions within the US’s proclaimed “human rights diplomacy.”

Since the administration of Jimmy Carter began championing “human rights diplomacy” in the late 1970s, emphasizing “human rights” and “universal values” has been a cornerstone of US foreign policy. Subsequent administrations have often claimed the moral high ground using slogans such as “human rights diplomacy”, “humanitarianism,” “human rights over sovereignty,” and “humanitarian intervention”. Particularly after the Cold War, Washington has positioned itself as a “human rights preacher,” “humanitarian policeman,” and a “practitioner of global human rights protection”. The US has frequently used “universal values on human rights” to justify its hegemonic interventions around the globe.

Pragmatically, the recent wave of college campus protests aligns with the cognitive framework of “human rights diplomacy” and “humanitarian intervention” that the US has long promoted. Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip have caused serious humanitarian crises, well-documented by reports from the United Nations (UN) and a plethora of videos circulating online. US university students, invoking the humanitarian principles and human rights values taught in their classes and perpetuated by the media, have begun to demand an end to their schools’ financial ties with Israel and criticize their country’s support for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

These student protests are deeply rooted not only in the traditions of US campus life and the US education system but also in the broader perception of the US as a “defender of human rights.” This image has been carefully crafted and maintained by successive US administrations. If President Joe Biden’s administration were to heed the students’ demands and take decisive actions to respond positively, it could gain significant support and votes, enhancing Biden’s political standing. Moreover, it would bolster the moral image of the US on the international stage, creating a stark contrast with Biden’s political rival, Donald Trump.

However, it is apparent that the US government, along with the country’s elite, has chosen to use its actions to teach a harsh lesson to all who hold illusions about US “human rights diplomacy”, including the protesting college students. The true essence of “human rights diplomacy” is revealed as the utilization of “human rights” and “humanitarianism” as tools of US foreign policy, concepts that are defined neither by US college students, the UN, nor the victimized Palestinians. Instead, “human rights diplomacy” is defined solely by the elites in Washington’s decision-making circles, who wield the highest power.

This situation is highly ironic and troubling. It suggests that only the powerful few have the authority to decide whose rights are protected and whose are not. Such blatant double standards, contradictory humanitarianism, and “human rights diplomacy” driven by oligarchs and powerful lobbies are disastrous. They undermine the very principles the US claims to uphold.

On the other hand, the suppressed US college students need to reflect on how to rescue the nation from such a predicament. This may be a more critical issue than mere protest, bearing significant implications for both the US and the wider world.

Historically, the US has positioned itself as a global advocate for human rights, often intervening in other countries under the banner of protecting these rights. This stance has justified various military and political actions worldwide, sometimes leading to controversial and unintended consequences. The principle of “human rights over sovereignty” has been a powerful tool in US diplomacy, enabling interventions deemed necessary by Washington.

However, the current domestic scenario challenges this narrative. The suppression of student protests contradicts the US’s self-image as a bastion of free expression and human rights. These students are applying the very values they have been taught, critiquing their government’s policies and actions regarding international human rights, particularly concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their calls for divestment from Israel and a reassessment of US support reflect a broader discontent with the perceived hypocrisy in US foreign policy.

If the Biden administration were to address these concerns seriously, it could significantly improve its domestic and international standing. By aligning US actions with its professed values, the administration could reinforce its commitment to human rights and democracy. However, the current approach of suppression risks alienating a generation of young Americans and discrediting the US’s global human rights agenda.

The dilemma faced by the US is emblematic of a broader crisis in “human rights diplomacy”. When human rights are selectively defended or used as tools of geopolitical strategy, their universality and integrity are compromised. The challenge is to transcend these double standards and genuinely commit to the principles of human rights and humanitarianism, both domestically and internationally.

The protests by US university students highlight a critical juncture in the country’s approach to human rights. The suppression of these protests reveals deep contradictions within the US’s “human rights diplomacy”. For the Biden administration, addressing these issues with sincerity and consistency could enhance its credibility and reaffirm the US’s commitment to human rights. For the students, the challenge is to envision and work towards a future where these principles are upheld genuinely, without being manipulated by the powerful few.

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