Human rights, atrocities and collective amnesia
It is worthwhile to examine the recent history of the key countries who have passed the vote against Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council and shine a light on their true values, as have been to date pertaining, with regard to human rights.
Countries that passed judgement against Sri Lanka have been the UK who was the penholder, in tandem with Canada, Germany and France just to name a few. Proclaim themselves to be judge, jury and executioner of human rights; sanctimonious to lecture other nations, having a dishonourable record themselves on the same subject matter of human rights. Surely their moral integrity is questionable; are these countries fair and genuine to criticise Sri Lanka?
There seems to be so much historical amnesia about what the British Empire really entailed. The fact that colonial history inclusive of its ugly brutality is not taught in schools or even in universities, has led to a complete lack of awareness of the atrocities committed throughout the empire and its subjugation of people by force. The extraction of substantial wealth was taken out of the colonies that they held by force and intimidation. Also, Britain financed its Industrial Revolution and its prosperity from the degradation of empire.
Let’s look at the UK’s true values
The UK Government it seems has conveniently forgotten all the atrocities and human right abuses caused by the British Empire, death and destruction stretching from Europe, Middle East, Asia to Africa, for instance:
In Chagos Islands: Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said the UK was now an illegal colonial occupier. Between 1968 and 1974, Britain forcibly removed thousands of Chagossians from their homelands and sent them more than 1,000 miles away to Mauritius and Seychelles, where they faced extreme destitution and discrimination. Britain then invited the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia. US planes have been sent from the base to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq. The facility was also reportedly used as a “black site” by the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects. In 2016, the lease for the base was extended until 2036.
In May 2019, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Chagos Islands being returned – with 116 states backing the move and only six against. The UN said that the decolonisation of Mauritius “was not conducted in a manner consistent with the right to self-determination” and that therefore the “continued administration… constitutes a wrongful act”.
The UN resolution came only three months after the UN’s High Court advised the UK should leave the islands “as rapidly as possible”.
The UK has repeatedly apologised for the forced evictions, which Jugnauth has said were akin to a crime against humanity. Prime Minister Jugnauth said the UK and US lectured countries “to respect human rights, but they are champions of double talk”. “They are hypocrites. Shame on them when they talk about human rights and respect,” he added.
In India: Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, also called the Massacre of Amritsar, the incident happened on 13 April 1919, in which British troops fired and killed up to 1,000 peaceful protesters. They were a crowd of unarmed Indians in a park known as the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in the Punjab region of India.
Acting Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer ordered troops to fire their rifles into the crowd of unarmed Indian civilians. The entrance was blocked by the armed soldiers, as well as by two armoured cars with machine guns. The vehicles were unable to pass through the entrance. Upon entering the park, the general ordered the troops to shoot directly into the gathering. The shooting continued unabated for about 10 minutes and the soldiers’ supply of 1,650 rounds of ammunition was almost exhausted. He has been called “the Butcher of Amritsar”. He became a celebrated hero among some with connections to the British Empire. Some historians argue the episode was a decisive step towards the end of British rule in India.
Some commentators have suggested that the British Government orchestrated and were a contributing factor to the severity of famines during the time India was under British rule. During the Indian famine under British rule, up to 29 million Indian starved to death. Historians have said that it wasn’t a famine it was a form of grand theft perpetrated by the British Empire to steal the food of India for the benefit of the mother nation England. While under the British administrative rule they diverted, stockpiles of tens of millions of tons of food from India. Then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said: “I hate Indians, they are beastly people with beastly religion, the famine was their own fault for breeding like rabbits.” The architect of the so-called famine in India.
In Iraq: At the crashing of the Iraq independent uprising in 1920, here the British indiscriminately massacred a large number of the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, on an industrial scale.
It wasn’t Saddam Hussein who first used chemical weapons in 1988 against the Kurdish population, it was rather the British Empire, no other than the infamous Winston Churchill as the War Secretary in Lloyd George’s Coalition Government who decided to conduct aerial bombings with chemical weapons to annihilate and subjugate the population.
In Germany: Coincidentally one of the Royal Air Force squadron leaders in Iraq was Arthur Harris – who in 1942 assumed the leadership of RAF Bomber Command. Several of his senior officers in Bomber Command had served in the same squadron in Iraq. For Harris, during the Second World War believed that the German people could be obliterated from the air as he had once vanquished the tribesmen of Iraq. The destruction of Hamburg, Dresden and scores of other German cities and towns followed. Around 600,000 Germans, mostly civilians were killed, he earned the nickname “Butcher” Harris but as a sign of admiration. He was vilified as a mass murderer and a war criminal only decades later.
After his evil deeds were regarded as heroic deeds, and he was loaded with titles of the realm, ending up as ‘Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Travers Harris, 1st Baronet GCB OBE AFC’.
In Kenya: The Mau Mau rebellion in 1952 was undeniably caused by the growing tensions between the Kikuyu ethnic group native to Central Kenya and the English white immigrants. The Kikuyu had long been unhappy with white immigrants in Kenya taking their ancestral land without compensation rather obtained by brute force, and their economic deprivation led to vast discontent throughout the Kikuyu. The British troops rounded up to 1.5 million Kenyans including Barack Obama’s grandfather and put them into concentration camps in Kenya. British colonial records indicate 100,000 believed to have died.
Sir Evelyn Baring, 1st Baron Howick of Glendale, KG, GCMG, KCVO, played an integral role in atrocities committed and the subsequent cover-up of the abuses carried out during the suppression of the Mau Mau revolt and kept them secret from the British public.
Colonial administrators and governors including Sir Patrick Muir Renison GCMG, Sir Henry Steven Potter KCMG and Sir Walter Fleming Coutts GCMG MBE had a significant part to play according to the archive reports.
Let’s look at America’s true values
In America: As historians are fully aware, during the 500 years of the transatlantic slave trade, colonists from the US, the UK and France transported 12.8 million enslaved Africans to the Americas, in addition to another 10 million who died during transportation.
The act of dropping atomic/nuclear bombs on a civilian population; on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was at the time governed by international law found in the Hague Regulations on Land Warfare of 1907 and the Hague Draft Rules of Air Warfare of 1922–1923 and was therefore unlawful. Also, under the Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions, the nuclear bombing of Japan was a gross violation of international humanitarian law. It clearly states that using nuclear weapons on civilians in any situation would violate international law. Is estimated over 226,000 civilians died and has America been brought to justice over this heinous crime. The person who sanctioned it; then, President Harry S. Truman be found guilty similar to the Nuremberg trial of the Nazi Germans and sentenced to death?
Presently in the US, black people are constantly harassed and murdered by white police officers, we have seen this day in day out on television. Henceforth, you can imagine what white immigrants must have done to the indigenous inhabitants of America who were completely wiped out by European migrants when there were no TV cameras or critical journalists to witness them. To date US justice has not prevailed for black people in education, employment and the list goes on.
The brutal killing of George Floyd in America by a police officer, by putting his knee on his neck so he couldn’t breathe. Is merely a recent example that was witnessed by the world because of modern technology. Otherwise, it too would have passed into oblivions without witnesses. As pointed out by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination long ago, African descendants in the US, Canada, Germany, France and the UK face systemic racism on health, employment, education, fair trial and other rights.
Let’s look at Germany true values
In Germany: As early as the beginning of the 20th century, German colonists slaughtered indigenous Namibian tribes and stole their land. Between 1904 and 1908 Germans carried out systematic genocide by having five concentration camps, “camps of death”.
The German military killed over 100,000 indigenous people, including three-fourths of the Herero people and over half of the Nama people. United Nations Economic and Social Council Commission on Human Rights said in a report that this is the first genocide in the 20th century. During WWII, Nazi Germany slaughtered almost six million Jews, including one million children.
Let’s look at France’s true values
In France: Historians have discovered evidence, to show that the French army massacred 5.5 million people in Algeria during the colonial period, and stole their land, which is a crime against humanity. It’s been nearly 80 years since hundreds of black West African soldiers who fought for France’s freedom against Nazi Germany during World War II were killed in cold blood by their fellow white French officers in Senegal in 1944.
In what is now known as the Thiaroi massacre; this is the story of how France treated its black soldiers and took their lives because they demanded for their rights. How was this then covered up and erased from the school curriculum? Was it in attempting to deny the truth and rewrite history? Was it to lighten the nation’s conscience burdened with guilt and culpability?
Let’s look at Canada’s true values
In Canada: The indigenous people of Canada have been constantly undermined and discriminated against by the non-indigenous European immigrants who settled in the continent of North America.
There is a deep rift between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada. It’s a divide that goes back hundreds of years when Europeans arrived in North America. This is when the discrimination began and the theft of their ancestral land. It didn’t stop at just taking land from the indigenous people, they brought with them a policy of physical and cultural genocide to snuff out the so-called Indian problem.
The first Indian Residential schools started opening in the 1870s at the beginning of what some have called the darkest chapter in Canadian history. What took place in Residential schools amounts to nothing short of cultural genocide. By 1920 the Indian Act was amended to make it mandatory for status Indian children to attend a Residential school. When their parents refused to send them, police showed up and forcibly took them. It’s estimated that 150,000 children were taken from their families and placed in these schools, where they were stripped of their culture and their language.
The goal of this program was assimilation, to quote, “kill the Indian in the child”. It is documented that thousands of children died, with some estimates saying the mortality rate was as high as 60% in some of these schools. Those who survived have shared horrific stories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The last Residential school closed in 1996. The impacts of those horrific institutions are still palpable today.
Indigenous communities have shown incredible resilience in the centuries since the European migration arrived, but the impacts of intergenerational trauma and colonisation still run deep. In 2007 the largest class-action lawsuit was taken against the Canadian Government which reluctantly acknowledged the damage inflicted by Residential schools in Canada.
Modern-day war crimes
It is reported that some in the US, the UK and their allies violated the Geneva Conventions and brutally killed innocent civilians in Afghanistan, which constitutes war crimes.
It is recorded that the US and the UK, among others, used some test tube of washing powder and staged a video as evidence to launch wars against sovereign countries including Iraq and Syria, which caused untold casualties of innocent civilians, tore apart and displaced numerous families. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Syrian crisis. In Syria alone, 350,000 people have been killed in the war, their families have been destroyed and their lives greatly affected. Orchestrated according to historians by Western forces including America Shouldn’t the perpetrators be sanctioned?
This year also marks the 10th anniversary of Libya’s civil war. France, the UK and the EU, among others, launched the war in Libya, creating a large-scale humanitarian disaster, which is the root cause of the current migrant and refugee issues and an important factor leading to regional turbulence. More than 400,000 people remain displaced within Libya. More than a million people are in urgent need of assistance. Shouldn’t the perpetrators be held accountable?
These countries show no remorse for the human rights, atrocities committed by them and the turmoil they created in other countries; they even go further to impose unilateral sanctions on others in the name of human rights, severely jeopardising the rights to life, health and development of people in relevant countries.
In the face of the epidemic, these above-mentioned most developed countries have turned a blind eye to their people’s rights to life and health, leading to losses of tens of hundreds of lives. In pursuit of “vaccine nationalism”, they’ve hoarded vaccines far in excess of their population’s needs, leaving developing countries struggling with insufficient vaccines.
We can’t help but ask: how could people have any right if they lost their lives? The United States and the West have been trumpeting protecting human rights, but who and what right on earth are they protecting? In what way are they respecting and protecting human rights? Shouldn’t they feel ashamed?
The new media age
These few countries are obsessed with lecturing others on human rights. However historic facts have proved that they are neither qualified nor capable of doing so. Historians have stated; we hope they will understand that you can’t tell a lie and expect to get away with it especially with the dawn of the new media age, where everybody has access to information on their phone.
A clear example of this would be the demonstrations that mushroomed all over the world in disgust of what happened to George Floyd who was illegally killed by a white police officer. It went viral everywhere in the world causing demonstrations because they had access to information and at the same time, they found it absolutely unacceptable that in 2020 an innocent black man can be killed because of his colour in America.
Weaponising the Human Rights Council
The time to intimidate emerging nations is long gone. In the old days, they had something called gunboat diplomacy where they could threaten with violence to get their way. Now, they are weaponising the Human Rights Council to be a precision-guided missile to exert influence on specific countries. Also gone are the days when several so-called scholars and state media could unscrupulously malign nations in collusion with impunity. Any nation worth anything must robustly defend national interests and dignity. It’s a courtesy to reciprocate what we receive.
There are no longer any excuses for discrimination, prejudice, ignorance and arrogance. Never try appeasement. That’s what British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did with Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and it ended up with the Second World War. Historians and aficionados have now widely discredited it as a policy of weakness.
By Ranjiv Goonawardena