Sunday, June 21, 2009

An old alliance

Nick Cohen is wrong here:

Earlier this year, the dictatorships which dominate the United Nations’ comically named Human Rights Council tried to pass a motion stating that defamation of religion should everywhere be a crime. For obvious reasons, Islamic states pushed the new blasphemy law and abused the language of liberty as they attempted to justify the punishment of Muslims and non-Muslims who criticised or mocked orthodoxy.

Strikingly, states that 20 or even 10 years ago would have been their enemies rushed to their side. Putin’s Russia, which has been engaged in the dirty war against the Islamists of Chechnya, supported the assault on dissent. As did Cuba’s communist atheists, the supposed socialists of Chávez’s Venezuela and the Brezhnevian relics from Belarus. The promise of an attack on the liberal values of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience produced a united front.

As he sat in his condo, nursing his grievances and watching his Mel Gibson movies, James W von Brunn may have seemed a relic of the fascist movements of the 20th century. But in his grubby, instinctive way, he was groping towards the new authoritarian alliances of the 21st.
This is not a new alliance.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has a lower profile than the Council and has been meeting for far longer:
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its first Optional Protocol allowing individuals to submit complaints to the Human Rights Committee were adopted by the General Assembly on 16 December 1966 and entered into force on 23 March 1976. The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, was adopted on 15 December 1989 and entered into force on 11 July 1991.

The Human Rights Committee was established to monitor the implementation of the Covenant and the Protocols to the Covenant in the territory of States parties. It is composed of 18 independent experts who are persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights. The Committee convenes three times a year for sessions of three weeks' duration, normally in March at United Nations headquarters in New York and in July and November at the United Nations Office in Geneva.
The Soviet delegate to this committee in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s was Anatoly Movchan, and in 1982 (English translation in 1988) he published a fascinating little book called Human Rights And International Relations, an account of the history of the field of international human rights from the Soviet perspective.

From the beginning there were clashes between different world views. For example, the Soviet Union argued that international treaties should exempt ideas of which they disapproved (fascism) from provisions guaranteeing freedom of expression. Capitalist countries rejected these suggestions, Movchan explains:
on the grounds that the notions "fascism" and "organisations of a fascist nature" were allegedly "vague and obscure". Incredibly, that "argument" was advanced in 1947, two years after World War II, unleashed by fascism, had ended...
Movchan's book shows, in example after example, how from the very start the Soviet Union sought alliances for the battle over human rights, and from the start found them with developing countries, especially from Africa and from the Islamic world. This alliance, which had formed by the 1970s, is what we also see at work in the Human Rights Council.

It is an old alliance, and has consciously set itself against the values of the capitalist West for more than three decades now.

(See also here for Movchan on the right to work.)

No comments: