Using double standards in Ukraine is a risky business – Analysis – Eurasia Review
Russia’s expulsion from the United Nations Human Rights Council was long overdue, even without the mass murder of innocent civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha.
A country that poisons or otherwise eliminates its critics at home and abroad and stifles freedom of the press, expression and association should not qualify for a seat on the Council.
A quick look at current and past membership of the Council explains why the UN General Assembly’s vote to suspend Russia, like several aspects of the Ukraine war, raises the specter of double standards.
Current members China and the United Arab Emirates rank alongside Russia among the world’s worst human rights abusers.
China has brutally repressed its Turkish-Muslim population in the northwestern province of Xinjiang to sinicize its ethnic and religious identity. China has also built a surveillance state that denies free access to information and basic human rights.
So does the UAE, whose opposition to political Islam has led them to overthrow Egypt’s first and only democratically elected government and support devastating civil wars in Libya and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia served as a councilor for the first five years of the kingdom’s military intervention in Yemen, which has unleashed one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in the Arab world’s poorest nation.
Saudi Arabia lost the 2020 vote for another term, less because of the Yemen war and more because of the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“The protracted conflict in Yemen has killed nearly a quarter of a million people, directly or indirectly due to inadequate nutrition, health care and infrastructure. It involves unlawful attack after unlawful attack, with homes, hospitals, schools and bridges among civilian objects targeted by the warring factions,” said Yemen researcher Afrah Nasser of Human Rights Watch.
Ms Nasser blamed both protagonists of the war, the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
In hopes of an end to the eight-year war, the warring parties agreed on a two-month ceasefire this week. However, those hopes were dampened by the Houthi’s refusal to align themselves with a newly created Presidential Council, empowered by Yemen’s internationally recognized President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
None of this excuses or belittles Russia’s actions.
But the double standards exposed by Russia’s suspension at the Human Rights Council goes beyond whether the council applies a fitness-and-proper test analogous to Britain’s assessment of candidates for National Health Service Trust directors or potential club owners should be its different football leagues.
The double standard also raises questions about the difference between Europe and the United States taking in Ukrainian refugees as opposed to those fleeing wars in Syria, Libya and Yemen, or the western country’s willingness to counter foreign occupation, as in, go out in the case of Morocco and Western Sahara or Israel and Palestine.
The problem for the United States and Europe is that Ukraine has spotlighted its failure to address seemingly hypocritical double standards in a way other conflicts have not.
The failure is likely to affect the broader struggle for a new bi- or multi-polar world order between the United States and China, now that Russia has effectively been removed from the equation.
The impact has already been seen in a comparison of voting patterns in last month’s UN General Assembly condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and this month’s suspension of Russia’s membership of the Human Rights Council.
The assembly condemned the invasion, with 141 countries voting in favour, five against and 35 abstaining. However, those numbers dropped to 93 yes, 24 no and 58 abstentions on the Council vote.
Underlying the contrast are both question marks over the process of suspending Russian membership and more fundamental differences over what constitutes a human right that has come to the fore with the rise of several civilizational world leaders.
Singapore, the only Southeast Asian country to join US and European sanctions on Russia, abstained on the Council vote pending the findings of an international commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in Ukraine. Singapore previously said it joined the sanctions to uphold the rule of law.
“We cannot accept the violation by the Russian government of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another sovereign state. For a small state like Singapore, this is not a theoretical principle, but a dangerous precedent,” Singapore’s foreign ministry said at the start of the Russian invasion.
Civilization leaders, including Russian and Chinese Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and Indian and Hungarian Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Victor Orban, think in terms of collective rather than individual rights; authoritarian, if not autocratic, rule; and civilizational rather than nationally defined external and/or internal borders.
The gulf was evident when countries like China, and of course Russia, voted against suspending Russia’s membership of the Human Rights Council and India abstained. But interestingly, Hungary, widely regarded as Putin’s closest friend in Europe, voted in favour.
Highlighting the differences between Democrats and Civilizationists places a higher value on consistency, integrity, and adherence to principles, and increases the cost of upholding double standards.
The struggle between Democrats and civilizationists, or as New York Times columnist David Brooks calls autocrats, “is not just a political or economic conflict. It’s a conflict over politics, economics, culture, status, psychology, morality and religion all at once… To define this conflict broadly, I’d say it’s the difference between the West’s emphasis on personal dignity and much of the rest of the world global emphasis on community cohesion,” said Mr. Brooks.