Iraq war weakens US human rights clout: Robinson
By Paul Hoskins
DUBLIN (Reuters) – The Iraq war has weakened the moral
authority of the United States and its allies to tackle the
likes of China and Russia over their poor records on civil
liberties, human rights campaigner Mary Robinson said on
Robinson, named by Time Magazine this year as one of the
world’s 100 most influential people, told Reuters that
disregard for human rights by western democracies made it more
difficult to promote them in countries where people enjoy less
“It’s much harder now for President Bush in China to talk
to China about human rights,” the former United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights said in an interview. “Where’s
U.S. President George W. Bush ended a visit to China on
Monday. He pressed President Hu Jintao on trade and currency
reforms and called for greater social and religious freedom but
there were few signs China had offered any major concessions.
Robinson, a former Irish president, said new laws in the
United States, Britain and Australia designed to reduce the
risk of militant attacks had also curbed civil liberties.
“It has been a terrible tragedy of responding to acts of
terrorism, that governments have forgotten what it is that they
are really defending,” she said.
Robinson cited Russia as another example where the
weakening moral clout of these countries was having a knock-on
“The checks and balances will kick in, more or less, in our
democracies but the damage that’s done is to other countries
… I think particularly of (Russia’s) President Putin: he’s no
longer under any kind of scrutiny in relation to Chechnya.”
Rights groups say government troops are behind numerous
civilian killings, abductions and rapes in Chechnya where
separatist rebels have been fighting federal forces for more
than a decade.
Robinson, now a Professor at Columbia University in New
York, said the United States and its allies had lost influence
over doubts about the Iraq war and issues like the holding of
prisoners without trial at Guantanamo Bay.
The United States is holding more than 500 people at its
Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. Human rights activists have
criticized jail conditions and the indefinite detention of
“The situation is simply getting worse. There’s the
ambivalence about torture and now we find that the Iraqis are
torturing those that they have detained so some of the reason
to justify this unjustifiable war on Iraq is also fading.”
The Iraqi government has promised to investigate the
discovery in a ministry bunker last week of 173 malnourished
and in some cases badly beaten men and teenagers.
Robinson, a member of the International Commission of
Jurists investigating how civil and political rights have been
eroded since the September 11, 2001 attacks, said she noted
growing public discontent over the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
“What I find living now in the United States is an
encouraging, wide sense of some of the checks and balances
kicking in … In Congress you have, at last, a sense, of ‘we
were misled, we should have been more attentive.”‘
Democratic Representative John Murtha said on Sunday that
he expected more people to come round to his views that U.S.
troops should be withdrawn from 2006 and that the military
occupation was making the situation in Iraq worse.
Robinson, in Dublin to launch a campaign against violence
to women, said she hoped that what followed would be analysis
of how Congress acquiesced so easily to a war where “the poor,
beleaguered people of Iraq are not better off.”
“It was not a legitimate war and I am glad that more and
more people, including President Carter, are coming out to say