UNITED NATIONS, Nov 21 (IPS) – Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, once made the distinction between “friendly” right-wing authoritarian regimes (which were mostly U.S. and Western allies) and “unfriendly” left-wing totalitarian dictatorships (which the U.S. abhorred).
Among the “dictators” the U.S. shunned in the 1970s and 80s were Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Myanmar’s General Than Shwe, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Libya’s Mummar al-Qaddafi, Syria’s Hafez al-Assad and North Korea’s Kim IL-Sung.
At the same time, successive U.S. administrations cozied up to a rash of right-wing authoritarian regimes and family-run fiefdoms, mostly in South-East Asia, Latin America and particularly the Middle East.
These regimes were widely accused by human rights organizations of instituting emergency laws, detaining dissidents, cracking down on the press, torturing and executing political prisoners and rigging elections. (As a South-East Asian right-wing dictator once said: “I promised you I will give you the right to vote, but I did not say anything about counting those votes.”)
Kirkpatrick’s distinction between user-friendly right-wing regimes and unfriendly left-wing dictators prompted a response from former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who shot back: “It seems to me that if you’re on the rack (and being tortured), it doesn’t make any difference if your torturer is right-handed or left-handed.”
But some of the Western nations have tried to politically separate “right-wing governments” from “left-wing governments” – the white-hatted good guys from the black-hatted bad guys, as in Hollywood movies of the wild West.
The strongest link between the United States and some of the oppressive Middle East regimes, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is primarily military.
And Israel’s right-wing government, accused by Amnesty International, of human rights abuses and torture, is a coalition of seven political parties.
The ongoing devastating and one-side battle between Israel, a strong US ally, and the militant group Hamas has underlined a longstanding double standard on torture and human rights abuses.
The US rarely, if ever, is critical of Israel and exercises its political clout to veto any Security Council resolution condemning the Jewish state, as it did last week.
Dr. Simon Adams, President and CEO of the Center for Victims of Torture, told IPS: “Unfortunately, if history teaches us anything it is that most governments are capable of perpetrating torture, regardless of their political complexion.
Some democracies, he pointed out, try to justify torture in moments of extreme crisis, like the United States after 9/11, while dictatorships often commit torture as part of an industrial system of terror and control, like North Korea or the Assad regime in Syria.
“The sad, reality is that authoritarian governments that declare themselves as belonging to the far left or to the extreme right have often committed torture in the name of advancing their cause,” he noted.
“The more deluded a government is regarding the alleged purity of the ruling ideology, the more likely they are to perpetrate torture against dissidents and non-believers. What all authoritarian regimes have in common is disdain for universal human rights” declared Dr Adams.
Meanwhile, in a report released in early November, Amnesty International (AI), a leading human rights organization, says testimony from released detainees and human rights lawyers, as well as video footage and images illustrate some of the forms of torture and other ill-treatment prisoners have been subjected to by Israeli forces over the past four weeks.
These include severe beatings and humiliation of detainees, including by forcing them to keep their heads down, to kneel on the floor during inmate count, and to sing Israeli songs.
Heba Morayef, AI’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa says: “Over the last month we have witnessed a significant spike in Israel’s use of administrative detention — detention without charge or trial that can be renewed indefinitely — which was already at a 20-year high before the latest escalation in hostilities on 7 October.”
“Administrative detention is one of the key tools through which Israel has enforced its system of apartheid against Palestinians.
Testimonies and video evidence also point to numerous incidents of torture and other ill-treatment by Israeli forces including severe beatings and deliberate humiliation of Palestinians who are detained in dire conditions,” says Morayef.
The AI also says the summary killings and hostage-taking by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October are war crimes and must be condemned as such, but Israeli authorities must not use these attacks to justify their own unlawful attacks and collective punishment of civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip and the use of torture, arbitrary detention and other violations of the rights of Palestinian prisoners.
“The prohibition against torture can never be suspended or derogated from, including – and especially — at times like these,” said AI.
Amnesty International says it has for decades documented widespread torture by Israeli authorities in places of detention across the West Bank.
However, over the past four weeks, videos and images have been shared widely online showing gruesome scenes of Israeli soldiers beating and humiliating Palestinians while detaining them blind-folded, stripped, with their hands tied, in a particularly chilling public display of torture and humiliation of Palestinian detainees.
In one image analyzed, by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab, three Palestinian men,?blindfolded and stripped of their clothes can be seen beside a soldier, wearing a green olive uniform like those worn by the Israeli ground forces.
A Haaretz investigation published on 19 October found that the image was taken in Wadi al-Seeq, a village East of Ramallah, on 12 October. One of the three victims depicted in the photograph told Amnesty International that he had initially been held and beaten by settlers but two hours later an Israeli military jeep arrived:
“One of the Israeli officers who came, approached me and kicked me on my left side, then jumped on my head with his two legs pushing my face further into the dirt and then continued kicking me as I was head down, into the dirt, with my hands tied behind my back. He then got a knife and tore all of my clothes off except for my underwear and used part of my torn clothes to blindfold me”.
“The beating to the rest of my body did not stop, at one point he started jumping on my back – three or four times – while yelling ‘die, die you trash’ … in the end before this finally stopped, another officer urinated on my face and body while also yelling at us ‘to die’.”
Meanwhile, the UN Committee against Torture is currently holding its sessions, through November 24, during which it will examine Burundi, Costa Rica, Kiribati, Denmark, Egypt and Slovenia.
These six countries are among the 173 States parties to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. They are required to undergo regular reviews by the Committee of 10 independent international experts on how they are implementing the Convention.
IPS UN Bureau Report
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