Terrorists: Human Rights or Double Standards?

The US-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia Director, Brad Adams, says that "The people trapped in the SWAT conflict zone face a humanitarian catastrophe unless the Pakistani military immediately lifts a curfew."

About 200,000 people are trapped but an astounding 2.3 million people are now affected by military operations only 120 kilometers from Islamabad, according to news reports.

Western eyes are still turned on Sri Lanka where the Sri Lankan government has pursued a campaign to militarily defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE). Here also the same Brad Adams and HRW pressed for NGO and press access to camps for displaced persons and detention centers. Some 280,000 Tamils were displaced with 20,000 emerging from a small enclave during the final battle according to UN spokesman Gordon Weiss.

But following Western-backed calls in the UN and elsewhere for independent investigations into possible war crimes , many non-aligned countries including Indonesia, Pakistan, India, China, Cuba, Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with strong support from Indonesia, have supported Sri Lanka and accused the West of double standards in the way it has treated Sri Lanka as compared to Palestine and Afghanistan.

Indonesia made it clear, whilst lamenting the death of civilians, that as a sovereign country Sri Lanka had the right to take military action against an insurgency.

Many years ago I was present at a discussion where the European Commission Director General for Development, then Hans Broder-Krohn, asked President Siad Barre of Somalia in Mogadishu if he minded that the new Lome Convention agreement between the European Community and the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) would contain a human rights clause.

President Barre replied that he didn't mind at all, so long as in the same framework he could ask questions about what the British were doing in Northern Ireland.

That perhaps gets to the delicate heart of the matter. Firstly, who is expected to agree to have their own internal affairs investigated and who is not? Secondly how to treat Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan, when the West has backed the use of military force, detention without trial and blockades against civil populations as part of counter-insurgency or counter-terrorist strategies? Thirdly who defines the relative moral standing or credibility of governments and rebels, and what rights and responsibilities do both have, and how are such wars really ended?

The west can hardly avoid in the case of Israel and Gaza not only that they see Gaza and Palestine through Israeli-tinted spectacles, but scratch the surface and the West and Middle East Peace Quartet, including the UN, are in it up to their necks in their chosen, pro-Israeli positions on the blockade of Gaza and Hamas, primarily reflecting political conditions they seek to impose upon Hamas, although they claim the blockade is about terrorism.

An investigation of the definition of who should be regarded as a terrorist or not in Gaza would expose Western complicity in drawing up much too wide a definition.

The West can hardly complain about larger scale civilian casualties in the Gaza war when it agreed to designate a political movement and its civil infrastructure as terrorist, and not just its military wing. A silly thing to do. The definition of fairness and how to apply it, in international trade or in human rights, tends to be dominated by those who hold the most power.

The fair and objective deployment of human rights as a concept in international relations seems to reflect the concept of fairness of the powerful applied to the alleged crimes of the less powerful in terms of relations between states, rather than the just claims of powerless people against powerful countries and institutions, which claim to represent fairness. Tell that to the marines. Tell that to the blockaded people of the Gaza Strip.

Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking.