Sherrie Gossett : Human Rights Groups Accused of Undermining Capitalism, November 16, 2005

Traditional human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are pursuing an ideology opposed to free market capitalism and undermining the changes necessary to spread liberty around the world, according to a group of intellectuals who have formed an alternative.

Members of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) conducted their first meeting in New York City Nov. 10, stating that their goal was to spread human rights and democracy throughout the Americas.

Guest speakers at the HRF event warned about "unelected" organizations that have secured places at the "decision-making table" of the United Nations. The speakers stated that these "unelected" groups operate on the premise of human rights concerns, but have a real goal of undermining the sovereignty of democratic nations and the war against terrorism.

Founders of the non-profit HRF include attorney Thor Halvorssen, former CEO and founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education (FIRE); Father Robert Sirico, founder of the Michigan-based Acton Institute for Religion and Liberty; New York philanthropist Kathryn Davis; and Cuban dissident Armando Valladares, who at the age of 23 was imprisoned by Fidel Castro for 22 years.

The Foundation emphasizes property rights and free markets as the basis for human freedom. The Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a non-profit that works to develop market-oriented think tanks around the world, co-sponsored the Nov. 10 event.

Atlas CEO Brad Lips said the idea that free market reforms are necessary precursors to human liberty "conflicts with views of progressives swayed by the socialist dream, who are skeptical."

The link between free markets and human rights was emphasized by Anwar Ibrahim, former prime minister of Malaysia, and Franklin Cudjoe, leader of Imani: Center for Human Education, a think tank in Ghana.

Cudjoe pointed to one of the globe’s worst human rights crises – the conflict in Sudan – which involves violent militias allegedly supported by the Sudanese government targeting civilians and routing them from their homes. It’s estimated that 2 million civilians have been forced to flee.

"What’s happening in Sudan is not a religious conflict, despite what you’ve heard," said Cudjoe, "but is due to an absence of clearly defined property rights, which always endangers the rights of humans."

Ibrahim also warned that the discussion of some democratic ideas, like separation of religion and state are "dangerous" in Muslim countries. "There is an assumption here that there is freedom of discussion," in those Muslim nations, Ibrahim said. But he explained that "you first need a constitutional provision that states you are free to disagree."

Michael Radu of the Foreign Policy Research Institute chastised the traditional human rights groups for remaining silent while the leader of Argentina’s popular rights group, Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, expressed satisfaction over the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"Did Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, usually defenders of [Madres de la Plaza de Mayo], say anything? No," Radu said. These groups, he added, want to treat terrorism as a "criminal justice matter," which "lawyers, courts and judges should fix.

"They see no difference between Osama bin Laden or [Abu Musab al] Zarqawi and a gang leader," Radu said.

Recruiters and supporters of armed jihad settle in countries like Great Britain, Radu added, because of declarations coming from human rights courts like the one stating that no one can be extradited to a country where they might be mistreated.

"The safety of citizens of the U.K., is less important than the rights of people like (jailed radical Islamic cleric) Abu Hamza who advocate mass murder. That’s human rights groups’ contribution to the struggle against terrorism," Radu said. "They believe such persons should have the same rights as others, especially more than victims or potential victims."

Amnesty International, which began operating in 1961 and Human Rights Watch Rights, in business since 1978, came under fire from Dr. John Fonte of the Hudson Institute, who said the groups’ "post-liberal, post-democratic ideological agenda" not only undermines human rights but represents a serious threat to liberal democracy.

"For years they’ve insisted the U.S. ratify all U.N. human rights treaties, and drop reservations we attached stating we will not accept anything that is incompatible with the Constitution, such as restrictions on free speech," he said.

Fonte said the concept of democratic sovereignty is a core value that should be officially incorporated into the National Security Strategy of the United States and promoted by the National Security Council, the State Department, and other foreign policy institutions.

"The E.U. (European Union) subsidizes anti-American, anti-Israel and left-wing groups," said Fonte. These non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving such subsidies "do not represent global society, should not be part of the process, or be at table," he asserted. In addition, "[U.N. Secretary General] Kofi Annan brings them to the table to essentially restrain the U.S.," Fonte alleged.

But Fonte’s charge about Annan is "absurd," according to Jose Luis Diaz, a spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. "Kofi Annan does not bring these groups in. This is an established U.N. working procedure allowing duly-accredited NGOs to participate in the work of the U.N.," Diaz said.

The groups can lobby and present their views and ideas at different U.N. meetings, Diaz added, but they are not allowed to draft legislation or vote. "It’s an integral part of the U.N. to allow participation by civil society. This new group (Human Rights Foundation) could ask for accreditation and participate themselves."

Curt Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International, also dismissed the HRF’s charges, stating that "it is governments that agree on the language of international human rights treaties and goverments that sign and ratify them.

"In recent years, we have seen the U.S. undermining the rule of law worldwide with its ‘exceptionalist’ behavior that the standards that apply to others don’t apply to the U.S.," Goering said. "The U.S. is losing, if it hasn’t already lost, the global human rights debate and the results of the course of action suggested by the speakers (at the HRF event) would inevitably damage further the U.S. image worldwide, something which this country can ill-afford."

Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, told Cybercast News Service that members of the Human Rights Foundation "have every right to promote their views as we do. If they’re for free markets, then God bless them. There’s no contradiction between that and the right to be free of torture or elect leaders for example.

Malinowski added that HRF is "looking for a conflict where there is none.

"We’re busy doing work, and aren’t that concerned about what people say on panels," he said.

While the human rights movement has become "corrupted and tactical," according to the HRF’s Halvorssen, he said his group doesn’t seek to polarize other human rights organizations, just polarize governments that violate human rights by action or inaction.

"Obviously, there wouldn’t be a demand for a new organization if Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were universally perceived as non-partisan and enthusiastic defenders of rights," Halvorssen said. "Their track record in a number of parts of the Americas has been disappointing. That said we will gladly partner with them on a case-by-case basis."

Halvorssen said HRF has two documentaries underway, both dealing with the use of children as slave labor. He also said his group would keep the public informed on the state of democracy in the Americas through reporting and research presented on the HRF website.\Nation\archive\200511\NAT20051116b.html