Should we listen to Genocide Joe?

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The United States’ Department of State has released its annual country report on Human Rights which notes with regard to Sri Lanka that 2023 was marred with a slew of “significant human rights issues” including torture, degrading treatment by the Government, unjustified arrests, and extrajudicial killings. The report finds the “government took minimal steps to identify and punish officials who may have committed human rights abuses.” 

The report comes as the US is at the vanguard of providing political, economic, military, and diplomatic support for the Palestinian genocide being carried out in Gaza. More than 35,000 civilians have been killed since October 2023 with 70% of them being women and minors. Through this period the US has vetoed United Nations resolutions calling for an immediate ceasefire, affirmed support for Israel and its right to self-defence, and provided financial and military aid. Last week President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that provides over $ 26 billion in military aid to Israel. This unwavering support and his own claims that he is an ardent Zionist, an ideology that justifies the colonial project of establishing a Jewish State in Palestine, has earned the president the unenviable epithet of “Genocide Joe.”

In this regard President Biden is following in a rich tradition of hypocrisy. The founding document of the US proclaimed, “all men are created equal” with certain unalienable rights to “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This equality however didn’t extend to slaves or to women with the majority of the founding fathers being slave owners themselves. Equally when US president Woodrow Wilson espoused in the 1920s the concept of “self-determination,” meaning that a nation—a group of people with similar political ambitions—can seek to create its own independent government or State, the US was treating South America as its ‘natural sphere of influence’ and the Philippines as a colony and in the process of outright annexing the kingdom of Hawaii as its 50th State.

Despite the hypocrisy, glaring contradictions, and double standards, these ideas that were espoused reverberate beyond the individuals and the passage of time. The principles of equality and right to life, liberty and pursuit of individual prosperity are the cornerstones of the modern human rights regime. They have given rise to emancipation of slaves, revolutions against feudalism and the cementing of due processes in law. The concept of self determination equally fuelled the many anti-colonial freedom struggles in the first half of the 20th century, including in India and Ceylon. 

It is in this spirit that the US State Department’s human rights report needs to be assessed. While it is easy to dismiss calls for the adherence to human rights pointing out the glaring hypocrisies and double standards, such actions will only benefit those who wish to suppress those rights and deny the people of their inherent dignity. 

When choosing to accept or reject a doctrine, the Buddha advised the Kalamas “when you yourselves know: ‘these things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.” Thus, human rights should be accepted and adhered to not because a foreign government says so but because it is for the greater good and benefit of the individual citizen, society and the State itself. With its appalling track record on human rights, it won’t hurt the Sri Lankan State to listen, even to Genocide Joe.

courtesy Daily FT

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Disclaimer: Should we listen to Genocide Joe? - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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