Friday, January 06, 2012

Human Rights: Revolutions and Manipulations in Retrospect

By Kalinga Seneviratne*
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

SINGAPORE (IDN) - As we reached the end of 2011, the western global news media were praising the young people who mounted the so-called Arab Spring for putting "all dictators" around the world on notice. But looking back on the year and seeing how these same news organizations manipulated news feeds to cheerlead some youth uprisings such as in Libya and Syria, while quickly forgetting others such as in Bahrain and ramblings in Saudi Arabia, one wonders whether 2011 had been the year of manipulated revolutions.

When youth uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt got rid of long-serving pro-western dictators it seemed as if the youth of the Arab world were finally rising against dictators who had served western capitalism well but not their own people. But, when the revolution spread to Libya and the haste at which the controversial 'Responsibility To Protect' (R2P) formula – for long espoused by the International Crisis Group led by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans – was adopted by the EU and the U.S. to create a no-fly zone in Libya under the pretext of protecting civilians in Benghazi from a possible assault by pro-Gaddafi forces, the western powers' manipulation of the Arab Spring uprisings soon became blatantly clear.

Once China and Russia were bullied into abstaining from vetoing the 'no-fly zone' resolution at the UN Security Council the path was paved for regime change and not protection of civilians. The NATO bombing campaign in Libya against civilian population centres under Gaddafi rule, made a mockery of the R2P formula. As many critics outside the West have pointed out these NATO bombing campaigns and the way Gaddafi and his son were killed amounted to war crimes.

Sydney University academic Tim Andersen observed: "Perhaps caught off guard by the rapid development of events, many of those who consider themselves 'left' or progressive, in the western-imperial cultures, happily joined in the big-power-orchestrated chorus against 'dictator' Gaddafi. In doing so they helped legitimise the overthrow of one of the more independent regimes in the Middle East, and helped extend big power control of the region."

On November 1, 2011 Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor, told the United Nations that NATO troops would be investigated alongside rebel soldiers and regime forces for alleged breaches of the laws of war during the battle to overthrow Col Muammar Gaddafi.

But, compared to the hounding of the Sri Lanka government after it crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to end the 30-year old civil war there, the western media and the human rights organisations, which consistently accuse developing country governments of war crimes, have been silent on this one. Where are those "independent" investigative reports and anonymous sources with video footage taken on mobile phones?

Now a new battleground seems to be Syria – as far as the western media is concerned. They have conveniently forgotten that there is no democracy in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait or the Arab Gulf states – all pro-western regimes. When I asked a British journalist I met in Singapore recently why the western media is not reporting about youth dissent in pro-western dictatorships in the Middle East, he said that these dictators look after their people well. But, didn't Gaddafi do the same?

While demonizing Gaddafi with trivial stories, the western media ignored facts, which would have shown that Gaddafi did look after his people well, even though they were not allowed to criticize him like the dictators in most pro-western Arab regimes do.

The Sri Lankan social commentator Shenali Waduge rightly pointed out: "The world needs to know that Gaddafi gave Libyans education. Education in Libya is free to everyone from elementary school right up to university and post-graduate study, at home or abroad, Libyans enjoy free health care, ratio of one doctor per 673 citizens. Libyans are given interest free housing loans, free land for farmers. In 2010, Libya ranked 53rd on the Human Development Index (out of 170 U.N. member states), making it a high human development country and Libya has no external debt and its reserves amount to $150 billion."

Western media has always boasted that it promotes freedom and helps to preserve world peace by exposing human rights violations. But the role of some of the leading western news organizations in cheerleading NATO and U.S. campaigns against Iraq (since the 1991 Gulf War), Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya raises the question whether these organizations have become part of the western war machine against the people of the world who are not subservient to Western powers.

Writing in the Al-Ahram weekly during the dying days of the Gaddafi regime, Dan Glazebrook noted: "Right now, NATO is bombing a home base of the largest tribe in Libya, it's not getting reported much, but if you read the Red Cross reports they're describing a horrifying humanitarian crisis in the city that's under attack, with hospitals collapsing, no drugs, people dying, people fleeing on foot into the desert to try to get away from it and so on. That's happening under the NATO mandate of protecting civilians."

Glazebrook is eminent blogger committed to social change, a writer for the UK Morning Star newspaper and one of the coordinators for the British branch of the International Union of Parliamentarians for Palestine.

At the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union's general assembly in New Delhi in November, Vice President of Radio China International Xia Jixuan noted that today we have the hardware to cover any event in the world but that hasn't helped us to prevent conflicts. He blamed the monopoly of western media organizations to set the agenda for this state of affairs.

"Good news is no news and news is about the abnormal," he noted arguing that we need a new set of news values to report on cross-border and cross-cultural issues. He also added that fierce commercial competition generates superficial stories about other countries, which creates stereo-types and reinforces prejudices.

At regional level, argued Jixuan, "the media should cooperate to report on win-win situation for common prosperity and learn to appreciate and respect differences".

With the Chinese government networks like China Radio International and Central China Television (CCTV) expanding rapidly across the world with English language programming, perhaps the Chinese may be able to offer a better model of international communications so that words like democracy and R2P will not be misused to manipulate peoples' aspirations.

*Dr. Kalinga Seneviratne is Head of Research, Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC), Singapore. The views in this article are those of the author and should not be attributed to AMIC or any other institution.