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BLOG: “The Weaponisation of Human Rights”

last modified Mar 28, 2018 12:54 PM
Read the blog article about our talk with Chase Madar, Friday 1 December 2017, written by Anouk Wear, member of the CGHR student group.

The discussion begins with a reminder that the foundations of the human rights campaigns we see today are in the anti-war movements. However, its direction has changed and we now see human rights used to ‘grease the wheels of war’; a problem Madar highlights and focuses his talk on.

He argues that we have placed too much faith in the law, in the sense that much of human rights discourse is dominated by legal scholars and whether actions or events are legal. The law can hence be used to make wars clean, by defining how so much is legal; thus, a legal framework is not only used to justify going to war, but also dictate how they are carried out. By doing so, the human rights industry has ‘embraced war in the name of humanity’ by claiming that much of warfare is necessary to protect people, and furthermore that much of warfare is not illegal. There are inherent problems when integrating human rights with the use of military force, perhaps it is incoherent. He gives the examples of human rights bigwigs and institutions advocating for war, which are further discussed in his LBR article (link below).

For instance, the 2007 video leaked by Chelsea Manning explicitly shows USA military officers firing at unarmed civilians from a helicopter. They even fire at the ambulance because it has no clearly displayed red cross. They obtain authorization, for each action, from their seniors – nothing they did was illegal nor a war crime. There is an abundance of specific legal definitions for what can be carried out in a war. Human rights lawyers have become an integral part of the ‘killing chain’ by routinizing the infliction of violence in a ‘nice, lawful way’. They provide the judgment for soldiers to fire, and in doing so help them feel less guilt over their actions. Meanwhile, major human rights groups did not comment; while this is an unfortunate event, none of it is illegal. It is probable that many similar occurrences happen regularly, we just don’t see them.

All of this is indeed problematic but human rights work is nevertheless vital. Rather, the problem is that human rights laws are insufficient on their own. They are very useful, but w must also learn more about military history and military science, in addition to having broader debates about politics. We must carefully consider the morality of war, the security of war and the consequences of war to resist the current undisciplined rush to go to war.

Some wars have indeed been able to provide humanitarian relief, but they had other motives too. For example, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978 did relieve them of the Khmer Rouge, but the Vietnamese also had selfish reasons given that they are neighboring countries – fear of regional destabilization, a refugee crisis, to name a few.

This talk does not condemn warfare, nor the human rights industry. However, Madar demands that we ask more first order questions, that we talk more about politics and morality, that we consider the consequences much more strongly, rather than focusing so much on the law. There are effective alternatives to preventing disasters and future warfare. 

Further Readings:

Short Cuts, Chase Madar https://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n13/chase-madar/short-cuts

The Passion of Chelsea Manning, Chase Madar http://www.versobooks.com/books/1401-the-passion-of-bradley-manning