Human Rights Muddle

5 03 2011

Category; Media, Middle East, Politics

BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen and Gaddaffi 1/3/11

This is the photo the BBC chose to put on it’s homepage on 1/3/11 for coverage of the ongoing crisis in Libya. It shows their Middle East Editor with Colonel Gaddaffi.

As I write this Colonel Gaddafi is holding onto power in Libya while insurgents hold various parts of the country and there are sporadic battles.

Internationally there are calls for the overthrow of Gaddafi and calls for foreign intervention to bring that about. Things are changing on a daily, an hourly basis at times. The situation may be different tomorrow.

This episode brings into focus the values that drive Human Rights as a political and legal issue. On what grounds should the west be actively working for his overthrow?

Here it is in stark terms:


Situation Now:

Dictator killing and oppressing his countrymen in media spotlight

Situation before:

Dictator killing and oppressing his countrymen

Just because you shoot someone in the main square when there is a television camera and senior reporter in the vicinity does not make it more morally reprehensible than dragging off someone to a prison cell to be tortured in the dead of night.

But in public life today it does make it more morally reprehensible. Countries with easier access get  more heavily scrutinised. That is exactly the standard being applied in the case of Libya. And in many other countries in the world.

How are we to know that Gaddaffi’s opponents are any better than he is? The new leader of the mutineers was, until a week or so ago, one of his ministers.

If Gaddaffi is a bad man today he was a bad man before. Why wasn’t there an urgent need for action then?

Why should we intervene in a civil war/uprising in a sovereign country? Is it because Gaddaffi lacks legitimacy? When has he ever had any legitimacy, except that given to him by the international community?

We could turn to the human rights organisations for guidance, but then we find that Human Rights Watch is being criticised by its founder for obsessing about certain human rights issues and ignoring others. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty might also be a bad person to ask; she is a Governor of the London School of Economics which eagerly took Libyan money and courted Gaddaffi’s son.

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