Amid a global pandemic, you might be forgiven for having missed that the State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China just released a 13,000-word report on the state of human rights in the United States. Entitled “The Record of Human Rights Violations in the United States in 2019,” it begins by quoting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “We lied, we cheated, we stole … It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment,” Pompeo said of his time as head of the Central Intelligence Agency during a Q&A at Texas A&M University.
The document reads similarly to reports from other human rights groups like Amnesty International, Freedom House or Human Rights Watch, providing copious facts and figures to highlight shortcomings of the American system on a range of issues. For example, on racist policing, it notes that “Shootings and brutal abuse of African Americans by policemen are frequent. African American adults are 5.9 times more likely to be incarcerated than white adults. A U.N. Special Rapporteur called such racial disparities a vestige of slavery and racial segregation.”
The report expresses alarm at the increase in racial hate crimes. “White supremacy in the United States has shown a resurgence trend,” it claims, noting that the majority of domestic terror-related arrests were linked to white supremacist individuals or groups. It cites a November FBI study that counted thousands of racial hate crimes, almost half of them motivated by anti-African American sentiment. Intolerance against Jews and Muslims is also increasing rapidly the report noted.
It also takes aim at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, noting that well over 100 people were arrested while demonstrating against those policies. Thus, if skim-read, China’s report could be mistaken for one written by liberal Western organizations based in London or Washington, D.C. But, in fact, it was written directly in opposition to the human rights industry; in its foreword it explicitly states:
The United States claims to be founded on human rights, touting itself as a world human rights defender. Following a framework of its own narrow understanding of human rights and using its core interests of pursuing global hegemony as a yardstick, the United States released annual reports on other countries’ human rights every year by piecing together innuendoes and hearsay. These reports wantonly distorted and belittled human rights situation in countries and regions that did not conform to U.S. strategic interests, but turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the persistent, systematic and large-scale human rights violations in the United States.”
Furthermore, it goes much further than most Western human rights reports do, incorporating economic and social rights into its critique. These rights are enshrined in the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are commonly seen as the cornerstone of human rights. The report states that homeless people are in a “miserable situation,” in the United States and are rarely treated with sympathy or helped, noting that an astonishing 80,000 California community college students had been forced to sleep in cars during the previous year alone. It also highlights the “shocking problem” of child poverty; the poverty ratio of American children having barely improved in the last 30 years. The report concluded that, “No child should have to worry where her next meal will come from or whether she will have a place to sleep each night in the wealthiest nation on Earth.” A lack of healthcare is also a killer; around 14 percent of adults have no coverage whatsoever.
The United States, however, has always explicitly rejected the Universal Declaration and its economic and social rights. Its ambassador to the U.N. during the Reagan years, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, famously labeled the Declaration a “letter to Santa Claus.” Likewise, Western human rights organizations rarely broach the topic of economic or labor rights; Human Rights Watch’s co-founder believed them to be antithetical to democracy and even described the very concept as “authoritarian.”
The Chinese report also expands its field to discuss the U.S. role in harming human rights worldwide. “In order to maintain its hegemony over the world, the United States pursued unilateralism and trampled on the international order and international system with the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter as its core,” it states, citing the rights of Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians whose lives have been destroyed by American interventions and condemning the U.S. for its sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela.
Well-written, well-sourced propaganda
Of course, many in the West will simply brush the report off as Chinese-government funded propaganda, which it is. The report certainly has an agenda, as its foreword and conclusion make clear. But perhaps we should go deeper and question if this well-written, well-sourced document is propaganda, what makes those from Western-backed human rights organizations any different?
Freedom House, for example, is overwhelmingly funded by Washington, consistently shows a strong conservative bias, and was even employed by the Pentagon to perform what it called “clandestine activities” – i.e. regime change – in Iran. Human Rights Watch began as a Cold War organization directly targeted against Communist governments and last November proved crucial in the overthrow of Evo Morales, the democratically-elected socialist president of Bolivia.
Amnesty International, perhaps the most famous human rights organization in the world, has an arguably darker past still. As MintPressNews revealed last year, one co-founder of the organization, Peter Benenson, was an avowed anti-Communist with deep ties to the British Foreign and Colonial Offices, propping up the apartheid regime of South Africa at his government’s request. Another co-founder, Luis Kutner, was an FBI asset who was involved in the government’s assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Kutner went on to form an organization called “Friends of the FBI,” dedicated to countering and combating criticism of the Bureau.
Despite the fact they are united against a common enemy – the coronavirus – the U.S. and China are again at loggerheads, President Trump is facing criticism for continually describing COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus,” despite explicit World Health Organization warnings against doing so. Trump has used the outbreak to double down on the necessity of building the border wall against Mexico, despite the fact that the virus began in China. Professor Ian Haney Lopez of the University of California, Berkeley, an expert in racist language in American politics, told MintPress:
Labeling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” is entirely in keeping with Donald Trump’s pattern of dog whistling. The term is designed to trigger racist fears (foreigners as disease-carriers), while preserving plausible deniability (defensible as merely a statement about geography).
The Chinese report concludes by stating:
People have discerning eyes. The United States has long been deceitfully touting itself as a so-called “role model” for upholding human rights, while flagrantly playing with double standards on human rights issues. Human rights, viewed by the United States as a tool to maintain its hegemony, have been championed or violated by it according to its own needs. Actions speak louder than words. The United States, a country preoccupied with human rights problems at home, unscrupulously tramples on the human rights of people in other countries, resulting in untold sufferings.
Whether it convinces many Americans of its legitimacy remains to be seen.
Feature photo | A homeless person holds a shoe while camped on a street bench, March 17, 2020, in Oakland, Calif. Ben Margot | AP
Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, Common Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.