THE INVISIBE VICTIMS
Most mainstream human rights organizations place a de facto priority on questions of physical integrity and violations of political and civil rights. Social and economic rights are addressed only insofar as they have a direct bearing on the political and civil issues; labour organization, for example, is a form of free association and restraints on culture often involve suppression on conscience and expression. The emphasis on civil-political rights reinforces the dominant US media tendency to define human rights far more narrowly than the UN universal declaration. Social, economic and cultural rights are treated as distinctly lesser categories of rights in most African countries having it beams to be reflecting from the foreign media.
Human rights groups and the media both focuses largely on abuses where the government is directly involved as an active agent of repression. “but what happens” asks Felice Gaer, director of the New York base International League for Human Rights, “ is the government a passive confederate in cultural abuses or an active agent” He cites abuses specific to women which are often deeply entangle in cultural and religious practices but not attributable directly to government action. Abuses of women fall largely within the social and economic spheres.
Consider for example, a widespread practice such as genital mutilation of women, girl child marriage and female suppression in most Middle East countries, a subject almost never mentioned in the mass media (one suspects more attention would be given if male genitals were being systematically mutilated.) Clitoridectomies, arguably a form of torture, causes life-long pain and life threatening infections in an estimated 84 women in Africa and Asia. This violation of physical integrity isn’t treated as human rights issue by mainstream human rights groups and the media because governments may not be explicitly involved in perpetrating these acts. The same logic applies to bride-burnings and various forms of trafficking in women. Prostitution like that servicing Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base in Philippines or the sex tourist trade in Thailand and Sri Lanka could not go without implicit government sanction. The cheap price of a Sotho girl in Lesotho, the naturally treated whore of a Swazi girl in Swaziland aren’t giving evidence to these Human Right advocates and social activists.
The widespread sterilization of Puerto Rican and Native American women is largely ignored by the press, even though US government agencies have been involved in promoting such an abuses. Other violations committed in t
he name of population control have receive scant media attention.
An editorial in the New York Times (4-19-89) strongly criticised the Chinese government for its policy of mandatory abortions. If we can conclude that there are human rights abuses committed against people because of their sexual orientation, can the mass boast of themselves of having a true and untainted human right? Another “omission by definition” applies to human right violation committed not by government but by multinational corporations, which often wield more power than the states, who are much concern about the economic growth to government more than to the people, who have sympathy on technocrats more than citizens like the International Monetary Fund whose policies cause untold misery for millions of people in the developing world (like what happened to Angola, Ghana Zimbabwe and Tanzania in the last decade.) Human rights do not figure prominently in international business coverage, excerpt when activist force issues through questionable means. Meanwhile the debt bomb is ticking. Third World government under pressure from IMF and World Bank, impose callous policies that exacerbate hardship and discontent, resulting in food riots and rebellions which are invariably quelled by state suppression. The debt issue is unquestionably a human right issue with direct relevance to political and civil rights. The suppression of labour unions is severe in countries like Chile, South Africa and Panama which gears its economy to attracting foreign investment and South Korea which keeps a tight lid on workers’ rights in an effort to promote rapid economic growth. Thus the circle of abused socio-economic and civil-political rights remains unbroken.
Encouraged by mainstream Human Right groups, media coverage of human right focuses mainly on government abuse of individuals but one doesn’t have to be a political dissident to be a victim of human right abuse. Poor people around the world are victimized as a class. Poverty leads millions of Asian kids into slavery, women are victimized on the basis of gender; consequently they own only one tenth of the world’s property and many are denied property rights and access to credit and education. Indigenous peoples, victimized on the basis of race, language and culture are in some ways the most invisible of all. Many are waging a protracted struggle against genocide and ecological catastrophe wrought by the engines of unchecked state and power. We cannot separate individual rights from collective rights because both are needed for there to be social justice nor can we accept the denial of individual liberties in the name of social equality.