Saturday, November 22, 2003


NZPols has a thoughtful response to my earlier post about Tony Ryall's outrage at the UN criticising us.

I agree that the fact that we are a liberal democracy counts for something - and that this seems to be exactly the sort of minor and often quite debatable case that NZPols is talking about. At the same time, though, adhering to international human rights standards requires that we yield some of our national sovereignty to international bodies - and if we don't stick to them, then why should anybody else?

But my main beef with Ryall's nationalist chestbeating is that if we hide behind national sovereignty, then so can anybody else... and other people hide far worse things behind it than we do. We effectively lose any right to criticise other people's human rights records. Death penalty? "Sorry, that's a matter of national sovereignty". Torture? "It's our contry, not yours". Disappearances, forced labour, and gulags? "We make the decisions here, not the UN". By standing on our "sovereign rights", we give a free pass to any shitty regime who wants to do the same.

(I'd also point out that the Nuremberg precedents seem to indicate that human rights standards trump national sovereignty anyway, but they really only apply in the big cases).

Sure, we're a liberal democracy. And there's no question that our human rights record is generally good. But trying to draw a distinction based on a country's type of government is not going to produce an acceptable result. Firstly, while democracies generally respect human rights, it's not necessarily so (just look at the US - death penalty, excessive sentances, Guantanamo, Jose Padilla...). And secondly, it allows the shitty regimes to claim that we're just dividing the world into "goodies' and "baddies", and therefore why should they listen to what we say?

Consistency is the better answer, I think.