Samantha Power was recently sworn in as the Obama administration’s new Ambassador to the U.N.. Power has a reputation – at least in U.S. liberal Establishment circles – of being a fierce proponent and defender of human rights. She is also said to be an advocate of the so-called ‘Responsibility to Protect’, and in particular the military incarnation of it. That is, using force to prevent or limit states committing mass atrocities against their ‘own people’.
To this end, it’s been reported that she was key in persuading Obama to take military action against the Gadaffi regime so as to ‘protect’ the Libyan people from the abuses of his security forces – although how much persueding he actually needed remains to be seen.
This military action was then cynically if predictably used to facilitate regime change, in which NATO helped their rebel allies commit mass atrocities against civilians themselves (up to and including ongoing Crimes against Humanity), thus demonstrating once again how ‘R2P’ can be used as a fig leaf by some of the world’s most powerful states to cover altogether grubbier war aims.
Power, as so many other members of the ‘R2P’ crowd who had initially cheered for the war on Libya, was silent on these NATO backed crimes – at least publicly. The stench of hypocrisy and selective concern does, I have to say, hang over the whole episode like the smell of carrion flowers over Muammar Gadffi’s putrefying corpse. Is Power, as the episode might suggest, little more than a shill for U.S. power, someone promoted to her role to give the same old venal policies a liberal, humanitarian sheen?
I would say yes, and her comments at her confirmation hearing provide further evidence that this is the case. According to The Washington Post, she said, among other things:
‘The United States has no greater friend in the world than the state of Israel . . . I will stand up for Israel and work tirelessly to defend it . . . I will tirelessly promote and defend U.S. interests. I will be a blunt, outspoken champion of American values and of human rights’.
So straight away, you can spot a rather glaring contradiction: because only someone who is uninformed, or a crude apologist, could argue with a straight face that ‘U.S. interests’, which she has vowed to defend, are everywhere and always commensurate with the promotion of human rights, which she has vowed to be a ‘champion’ of. They aren’t in Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia, or indeed . . . in Israel.
As Power has pledged to ‘stand up for Israel and work tirelessly to defend it’, let’s have a quick look at the human rights record of this state, according to two major Western human rights NGOs.
In their 2013 world report, Human Rights Watch document how:
‘Israel imposed severe restrictions on Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement, continued to build unlawful settlements in occupied territory, and arbitrarily detained Palestinians, including children and peaceful protesters . . . Israel’s punitive closure of the Gaza Strip, particularly the near-total blocking of exports from Gaza, continued to have severe consequences for the civilian population . . . Israel maintained onerous restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank, including checkpoints, closure obstacles, and the separation barrier . . . Israeli military authorities detained Palestinians who advocated non-violent protest against Israeli settlements and the route of the separation barrier . . . Israeli authorities continued to arrest children suspected of criminal offenses, usually stone-throwing, in their homes at night, at gunpoint, question them without a family member or a lawyer present, and coerce them to sign confessions in Hebrew, which they did not understand’.
In their 2013 world report, Amnesty International document how:
‘The Israeli authorities held more than 4,500 Palestinian prisoners, including 178 administrative detainees at the end of the year, after a temporary decrease in numbers following Palestinian and international protests. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees during arrest and interrogation was reported. Israel’s military blockade of the Gaza Strip continued to severely affect Gaza’s 1.6 million residents. In November, Israel launched an eight-day military campaign against Palestinian armed groups who fired rockets indiscriminately from Gaza into Israel; more than 160 Palestinians as well as six Israelis were killed, including many civilians . . . They also continued to demolish Palestinian homes and carry out forced evictions. The Israeli military continued to use excessive force against protesters in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT); in addition to 100 civilians killed during the November conflict in Gaza, Israeli forces killed at least 35 civilians in the OPT during the year. Palestinian citizens of Israel faced discrimination in housing and residency rights, and continued home demolitions, particularly in the Negev/Naqab region’
Israel’s record on human rights is, then, abysmal – as anyone even vaguely familiar with that record would know. Collective punishment, racist discrimination, unlawful killings, forced displacement, and arbitrary arrest are just some of the means they use to repress the Palestinians.
I am sure that Power herself is more than familiar with that record, but has publicly and rather vociferously pledged to fight to defend this serially abusive state nonetheless, because – as someone whose job it is first and foremost to ‘promote and defend U.S. interests’, rather than ‘champion’ human rights – she has to.
Where human rights concerns come into conflict with ‘U.S. interests’, I think Power has made it abundantly clear what side she is going to come down on.
And if Samantha Power – with her war mongering and her hypocrisy and her devotion to certain abusive regimes – is what a human rights champion looks like, then human rights isn’t something I want anything to do with.