By Nick CaterAlertNet
May 20, 2005
The United States needs to learn respect for international humanitarian law and human rights in dealing with aid agencies, urges commentator and consultant Nick Cater.
For shock and awe, there's nothing to beat an American government spokesperson discussing humanitarian action and revealing both double standards and a failure to grasp the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence. Like precision bombing that does "collateral damage" to their own troops, the officials making these pronouncements often miss the point, whether it's the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) urging NGOs to promote their American funding in high-risk war zones or the latest State Department verdict on Uzbekistan.
After the Uzbek regime of President Islam Karimov mowed down perhaps hundreds of its citizens following a politically-inspired jailbreak, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher carefully urged restraint by both sides. He added: "We urge the government â€¦ to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other humanitarian organisations full access to the region so we can get the facts, so that they can help take care of people that may need their help."
Leaving aside whether humanitarian agencies are there to "get the facts" for America, the U.S. stance on ICRC access to those in need in Uzbekistan is directly at odds with its blocking of ICRC and Iraqi Red Crescent Society access to the Falluja enclave in Iraq during a 2004 siege. That siege that mocked almost every aspect of the Geneva Conventions that make up international humanitarian law.
The U.S. government has long regarded its observance of international humanitarian law as optional, at best. In 2002, a legal adviser reassured President George W. Bush that the need to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions...".
Such pervasive contempt for international law and human rights -- from U.S. efforts to sabotage the International Criminal Court to its indefinite detention of prisoners of war without hearings in sub-human conditions in Guantanamo Bay -- has inevitable consequences.
If the U.S. did not, according to the respected U.S. group Human Rights First, maintain around a dozen secret detention centres worldwide in which nameless inmates are hidden from the ICRC, would Abu Ghraib guards have brutally harassed their prisoners?
If the U.S. government maintained as accurate records of Iraqi casualties as it does of U.S. fatalities, would a U.S. Marine have shot dead three injured and unarmed supposed ex-combatants in a Falluja mosque (one incident was captured on film) and be cleared by a military inquiry for conduct "consistent with â€¦ the law of armed conflict"?
No wonder America's reputation is so low that an unsubstantiated Newsweek report of desecration of the Koran by Americans at Guantanamo provokes rioting that kills a dozen or more and injures scores of people.
USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios recently linked U.S. combat, diplomacy and aid when he noted in an AlertNet interview some "unintended favourable good consequences" from the $1 billion of American tsunami aid and military assistance, such as halving Islamic Indonesia's negative impressions of America. Perhaps $1 billion is a good price to buy influence, but if the U.S. wants to save a few dollars, a little respect for international humanitarian law and the ICRC would go a long way.
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