China Says U.S. Failure to Pass Gun Control Violates Human Rights

On Friday, the State Department released its human rights report of civil, political, and human rights evaluations globally, reporting on the past year of 2012. The federal agency issues such reports annually, and their substance is often used in processes within the Agency for International Development to navigate terms of aid conditionality — as well as by lawmakers to consider economic sanctions in response to rights violations.

In what is becoming commonplace tit-for-tat between great powers, Chinese officials continue this week to put forward aggressive accusations of U.S.' "hypocrisy" on human rights issues in the wake of the recent State Department report. 

In what is the first of such reports under Secretary of State John Kerry's auspices, a fair amount of continuity from previous years remains, with some new areas of attention including coverage of "horrifying violence" in Syria, evaluations of elections in fragile political environments like Egypt, Libya, and Burma, and accusations of heightened "crackdowns on civil society" in states including Iran and Venezuela.

As in the past, the report accuses Beijing of widespread "repression and coercion ... against organizations and individuals," including "arbitrary and unlawful" deprivation of citizens' lives.

China has been increasingly outspoken against the validity of such condemnations, accusing Washington of hypocrisy in its evaluation of human rights, often citing U.S. involvement across the world of evidence of human rights abuse. The report cites U.S. military action in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen of evidence of "seriously infringing" human rights globally. "The U.S. turned a blind eye to its own woeful human rights situation and never said a word about it," Chinese officials said, going on to attack America's human rights record abroad.

Chinese statements go beyond this somewhat commonplace criticism of U.S. military operations to invoke brazen claims about widespread U.S. human rights abuse and discrimination at home. Among shameless accusations flung at Washington are statements put forward by Chinese officials in a Beijing newspaper this week saying, "American citizens do not enjoy a genuinely equal right to vote" (using a turnout figure of 57.5% in the U.S. election a form of evidence of voter discrimination). Accusations go on to report "warrantless wiretapping," and discrimination against Muslims and women in America, citing instances of violence and sexual abuse, and even pointing to U.S. failure to pass gun control and prevent mass shootings as a sign of abusive government. 

Hurling accusations back at American human rights monitors is, on the one hand, a thoughtful strategy by Chinese authorities, eager to piggyback on growing concern on U.S. policies like drone warfare and the death penalty that are gaining widespread international condemnation. As the Chinese are eager to secure influence across the globe in tenuous areas such as the Middle East, this practice in rhetoric may reflect carefully crafted policy to help foster anti Americanism. Such exaggerated, largely unfounded responses cannot, however, erase world knowledge of persisting rights concerns in China. Beijing's deflections cannot mask the regimes own human rights abuses reported by monitors for years both inside and outside the U.S. To the extent that such responses force Beijing to recognize categories of human rights protections, issues of discrimination, and ideas of political liberty within their own officials’ public statements, however, the exchange may present a glimmer of hope. That is, increasing human rights monitoring can subtly force regimes everywhere to go on the defense, in a "justificatory landscape" of global human rights monitoring where accusations can be contested and deflected, but not entirely avoided. 

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Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

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