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 World Affairs

Double standards for declarations of independence and human rights record

Events related to the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) by Kosovo from Serbia and now the riots in Tibet which China says is an attempt at separatism generate much interest in Sri Lanka for reasons well known.

Kosovo's declaration of independence as a sovereign state on February 17 it was expected would result in political turbulence and it happened last week when violence erupted in the Serb dominated town of Kosvska-Mitrovica when Serbs occupied a court house in protest against the declaration of independence, Serbs attacked the UN peace keepers when they attempted to evict those occupying the court house. Report said that rocks, grenades and Molotov cocktails were hurled at the UN police while a NATO truck was set ablaze. This is said to be the worst bout of violence since February 17. By the end of last week the demonstrators were removed from the court house, but Serbs on Kosovo most of whom are concentrated in the northern part bordering Serbia are seething with anger. The Serbs who were said to be the perpetrators of violence have now become the victims.

Kosovo has been under UN administration for 9 years since US led bombing of Kosovo following ethnic clashes between ethnic Albanians who comprise 90 per cent of the population and the 10 per cent Serbs. Aerial bombings by the US drove out Serbs from Kosovo which is a part of Serbia. After the declaration of independence Kosovo is now recognised by about 30 countries led by leading western nations. Attempts are now being made to hand over the administration to the European Union and NATO troops have been called in. Kosovo independence is being opposed by Serbia, Russia, Macedonia, Spain and many countries who have suffered from separatism or threatened by separatism. These countries point out that this declaration of independence violates international law and is illegal.

Last week Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria recognised Kosovo. The statement made of Canada on recognising Kosovo is very much relevant to those countries where UN intervention in some form or the other is called for. Canada said: Forcing 2 million Albanians to join Serbia after 9 years of UN rule was not a viable option. International law it appears, can be cast aside for 'viable options.'

President George Bush last week authorised the sale 'weapons and other defence material' to Kosovo saying that the sale would 'strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace.'  The American president had ignored the concerns of Serbia and Russia.

The desire of the Americans to establish a strong US presence in Europe is manifestly clear in their attempts to establish an anti missile defence system in Poland and Slovakia despite strong objections from Russia. Russia has now pulled out of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and is threatening to reinstall its intermediate missiles directed at Western Europe. The US has also established a massive military base Camp Bondsteel in Europe under the flag of NATO. Whether Kosovo with its two million inhabitants needs such a defence establishment is not clear. Others however say that it could be a possible Guantanamo facility.

This is one instance where the defence of human rights of a minority coincide with the defence interests of a superpower.

Tibetean riots

While China maintains that last weeks riots in the Tibetean capital Lhasa which later spread out into neighbouring provinces had been master minded by the 'Dalai Clique' which wanted an independent Tibet, the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India for 49 years after the Chinese forces moved into Tibet, kept repeating last week that his objective was not separation but autonomy for Tibet.

The riots were sparked off following a march of Buddhist monks on the 49th anniversary of Chinese troops moving into Tibet which Tibeteans considered was an autonomous province. Reports said that the demonstrations were led mainly by monks and some of the TV coverage which had slipped through the strict censorship cordon imposed by the Chinese government featured monks prominently. Thus, speculation by some that the Dalai Lama was losing control of Tibeteans seems to be off the mark.

The casualty rates given by the government and Tibeteans in exile varied. On Friday the government gave the number as 16 killed and 29 arrested. The number cited by Tibetan exiles ran into three figures.

A report from Taiwan said that the Lhasa riots has had an impact on the election campaigning in Taiwan for election of the president scheduled for March 22. It had Ma Ying Jeon the presidential front runner who is advocating closer ties with China on the defensive and his rival Frank Hseih warning that a party favouring closer ties could result in Taiwan suffering the same fate as Tibet.

The reactions of western powers to the crackdown of the rioters by the Chinese authorities seem comparatively muted. Whereas as a crack down on Burmese monks by the military junta evoked the anger of these nations and made them cry out for protection  of human rights with UN intervention, in the case of China the advice has been: 'exercise maximum restraint.' Obviously a nation of 1.2 billion people and the second biggest economic power is too great to trifle with. Would any western nation dare to take on China and apply the R2P?

There are double standards for human rights: One for mighty economic powers and another for helpless Third World nations.


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