Are some people's rights more human than others?

Perhaps, it is worth recalling what exactly the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was jailed for. Here it is from the Preamble of Charter 08, a manifesto released on December 9, 2008, the document that was considered so subversive it led to this former literature professor being sentenced to jail for eleven years (translation courtesy of HRIC or Human Rights in China).

This year marks 100 years since China’s [first] Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since the Chinese government signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Having experienced a prolonged period of human rights disasters and challenging and tortuous struggles, the awakening Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly aware that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, republicanism, and constitutional government make up the basic institutional framework of modern politics. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives people of their rights, rots away their humanity, and destroys their dignity. Where is China headed in the 21st century? Will it continue with this “modernization” under authoritarian rule, or will it endorse universal values, join the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic form of government? This is an unavoidable decision.

In deciding to boycott the Nobel Prize conferment on Liu, the Philippines according to President Noynoy Aquino or PNoy was putting the interest of its citizens (particularly those on death row without reprieve in China now numbering six for allegedly smuggling drugs) above that of a foreigner. In sending its regrets to the Nobel Foundation, the government was seeking to appease China over a series of incidents that had strained bilateral relations. Here is what PNoy had to say against his detractors from human rights groups

It’s not their call to make the decisions, it’s my call. We have immediate problems, amongst them all those incarcerated in China. We’ve had strained relations because of the incident and so many other things, my interest has to be first with the Filipinos, I think nobody will begrudge me kung (if ) secondary interest ang (are) any other nationality, I did swear an oath to defend and to safeguard all Filipinos everywhere, inuna ko Pilipinas, kung kasalanan yun uulit ulitin ko yung kasalanan na yun (I placed the Philippines first, and I would do it again regardless of what others may think).

Fair enough, some might say. But, then again when PNoy’s father, the late Sen Ninoy Aquino, was incarcerated and sentenced to death by firing squad on trumped up charges of treason, it was in part due to the appeals of the same international human rights groups to Western leaders backing the dictator then Pres Marcos that he was granted a lease on life. If these leaders had thought the way PNoy had; for example, if they had thought that the rights of a dissident in a country led by an ally were not as important as the safety of their own people (and for a time they did just that), then things would have turned out differently back then.

The core question here is was it really in the Philippines’ interest to boycott the ceremony and hand China a diplomatic coup over the United States in the process at a time when its power and prestige are waning? And to do so on such a significant date as the commemoration of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which the Philippines through former UN Sec Gen Carlos P Romulo co-drafted, was just utterly distasteful (it makes you wonder what was passing through the mind of Foreign Affairs Sec Alberto Romulo at the time).

Not that we should be big fans of America and the way it has conducted its foreign policy in this and other parts of the world over the past century when it reached the zenith of its global might, but does the Philippines still have a coherent policy to speak of when it comes to this arena? Ever since the execution of Flor Contemplacion in Singapore back in 1995 and the public backlash against Philippine government officials that followed, it has been the policy of successive administrations to avoid such incidents at all cost. The question that emerges is could there have been a better way to smoothen ties with our immediate neighbor without having to sacrifice such a fundamental belief?

Perhaps if our diplomats had handled the matter with a little more foresight, tact and diplomacy (as their job descriptions suggest), the government would not have painted itself into a tight corner. The president would not have been forced into such an awkward position of having to cover for the mixed messages springing out of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

For the sake of the safety of its citizens overseas, the United States would never countenance sacrificing its core principles in the same manner. And the reason is that that nation regards America as not just consisting of its people, but of an idea. And it is that Idea (that all men are created equal) that they are willing to put their citizens in harm’s way in defense of. They may not always justly determine what constitutes a clear and present threat to Freedom, but they have at least demonstrated time and time again a capacity to offer their blood and treasure in pursuit of that ideal.

Perhaps our decision-makers ought to heed the words of PNoy’s late father who penned the following passage during the dark days of authoritarian rule

Leaders I admired, whose advice I sought
Became fallen idols, their souls were bought,
Their conscience they bartered for soft convenience,
Due to despicable cowardice, they’ve lost their patience.

Leaders became dealers, begging for part of the spoils,
Forgetting the value, the essence of the hottest toil,
Paralyzed by fear, they joined the amoral dictator,
Defending, waving the bloody flag of the new oppressor.

The pillars of society became the props of tyranny,
Be realistic, they urged, if not for safety, for money.
It is useless to resist, the tyrant is too strong,
Yet aware, with their help the tyranny will prolong.

In bartering for the safety of its citizens overseas, has this administration incurred too high a cost and become a prop of tyranny in China? In reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm , where the dominant pigs wrote “some animals are more equal than others”, I ask are some people’s rights more human than others?

Photo: Eleanor Roosevelt holding the International Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy (www.thecusponline.org) and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • GabbyD

    i cant link here, but according to a story on the inquirer:

    BEIJING—China on Tuesday said it was handling the cases of five Filipinos sentenced to death for drugs offenses according to law, after Philippine government linked their fate to its no-show at the Nobel peace prize ceremony.

    President Benigno Aquino told a newspaper that staying away from Friday’s ceremony in Oslo to honor peace laureate Liu Xiaobo had been “in our national interest”—a reference to convicted Filipinos in China.

    “China’s judiciary handled the cases of the five Philippine drug traffickers independently and in accordance with law,” foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu told reporters when asked about Manila’s no-show in Norway.

    —–
    which is exactly what we expect sovereign nations to react. this is exactly how we reacted too on various occasions that involved foreigners, the HK hostage incident included.

    • On top of that, GabbyD, is the fact that despite our concessions to China (or perhaps because of it), the mules will keep coming, their employers emboldened by our stance on the issue (it’s called moral hazard).

      Then what? What other kinds of concessions will the Chinese be able to extract from us then? This is why I say there has not been a rational policy response to this issue. It has been driven by our initial blunders compounded by more missteps. It has just been one after another. And the worst thing about it is, it is not over yet…

      Will we become the transshipment point in the narcotics trade of Southeast Asia (similar to Mexico in North America)? Are we prepared to be profiled and strip searched the next time we visit Hong Kong or the mainland?

      • GabbyD

        exactly. where is the plan? whats the end game? pnoy’s desire to save lives, while noble, isnt a coherent expression of the national interest.

        the inquirer article also points out that the stated reason for our nonattendance is NOT resulting in the intended effect. actually i’d be shocked if it DID work. i’d be surprised if beijing said “in recognition for not attending, we would like to waive our legal justice system and rethink the case”. THAT would be front page news all over the world.

        now, this strategy of pnoy would be more understandable IF they are in fact innocent, or even unaware they were trafficking drugs. but there is nothing that has come out to show this…

  • GabbyD

    i cant link here, but according to a story on the inquirer:

    BEIJING—China on Tuesday said it was handling the cases of five Filipinos sentenced to death for drugs offenses according to law, after Philippine government linked their fate to its no-show at the Nobel peace prize ceremony.

    President Benigno Aquino told a newspaper that staying away from Friday’s ceremony in Oslo to honor peace laureate Liu Xiaobo had been “in our national interest”—a reference to convicted Filipinos in China.

    “China’s judiciary handled the cases of the five Philippine drug traffickers independently and in accordance with law,” foreign ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu told reporters when asked about Manila’s no-show in Norway.

    —–
    which is exactly what we expect sovereign nations to react. this is exactly how we reacted too on various occasions that involved foreigners, the HK hostage incident included.

    • On top of that, GabbyD, is the fact that despite our concessions to China (or perhaps because of it), the mules will keep coming, their employers emboldened by our stance on the issue (it’s called moral hazard).

      Then what? What other kinds of concessions will the Chinese be able to extract from us then? This is why I say there has not been a rational policy response to this issue. It has been driven by our initial blunders compounded by more missteps. It has just been one after another. And the worst thing about it is, it is not over yet…

      Will we become the transshipment point in the narcotics trade of Southeast Asia (similar to Mexico in North America)? Are we prepared to be profiled and strip searched the next time we visit Hong Kong or the mainland?

      • GabbyD

        exactly. where is the plan? whats the end game? pnoy’s desire to save lives, while noble, isnt a coherent expression of the national interest.

        the inquirer article also points out that the stated reason for our nonattendance is NOT resulting in the intended effect. actually i’d be shocked if it DID work. i’d be surprised if beijing said “in recognition for not attending, we would like to waive our legal justice system and rethink the case”. THAT would be front page news all over the world.

        now, this strategy of pnoy would be more understandable IF they are in fact innocent, or even unaware they were trafficking drugs. but there is nothing that has come out to show this…

  • GabbyD

    the problem is we have no idea what pnoy wants to do here. save their lives? free them? imprison them here?

    what’s the principle here? medyo malabo

    • Manuelbuencamino

      gabby

      the president wants to save 5 lives. it has to do with the philippines abolishing the death penalty

      • GabbyD

        yes, but, if their lives are saved, what then? in the future, when a foreigner commits a crime here, will we send them back, lessen their crime, do whatever… for a quid pro quo?

        whats the plan here?

        pnoy also said that this is about the chinese hostage’s death. what do we have 2 do to get over that? how many concessions?

        • Manuelbuencamino

          Gabby,

          I guess what you are looking for is certainty, a plan set in stone. well, there’s no such thing. look at america, as doy said, “the United States would never countenance sacrificing its core principles in the same manner.” but they did the iran contra thing; they abandoned their commitment to human rights when they suspended due process, and also allowed torture for suspected terrorists.

          As to what to do with those criminals … my comments on the dilemma are in the section of an earlier post on the issue

          • With all due respect, Manuel, I think you are clouding the issue. The US in its conduct of operations against rogue states or the war on terror, may have adopted certain measures officially or otherwise that have violated its own Constitution and laws. In the fog of war, such actions may take place, but are later subject to judicial or administrative review.

            The Iran Contra deal was in violation of a trade embargo adopted by the US Congress. The perpetrators were prosecuted and those found guilty were jailed. In the war on terror, the US Supreme Court has ruled against many administrative measures taken by the Bush administration and the Obama administration has repudiated some of them as well.

            The case of Filipinos on death row in China for violating criminal laws on drug trafficking is another matter. My point was that the US would never countenance intervening on such cases that involve their citizens violating the laws of another country by compromising their position on human rights. They would use other forms of diplomacy, other courses of action, but not the one that our government officially took.

  • GabbyD

    the problem is we have no idea what pnoy wants to do here. save their lives? free them? imprison them here?

    what’s the principle here? medyo malabo

    • Manuelbuencamino

      gabby

      the president wants to save 5 lives. it has to do with the philippines abolishing the death penalty

      • GabbyD

        yes, but, if their lives are saved, what then? in the future, when a foreigner commits a crime here, will we send them back, lessen their crime, do whatever… for a quid pro quo?

        whats the plan here?

        pnoy also said that this is about the chinese hostage’s death. what do we have 2 do to get over that? how many concessions?

        • Manuelbuencamino

          Gabby,

          I guess what you are looking for is certainty, a plan set in stone. well, there’s no such thing. look at america, as doy said, “the United States would never countenance sacrificing its core principles in the same manner.” but they did the iran contra thing; they abandoned their commitment to human rights when they suspended due process, and also allowed torture for suspected terrorists.

          As to what to do with those criminals … my comments on the dilemma are in the section of an earlier post on the issue

          • With all due respect, Manuel, I think you are clouding the issue. The US in its conduct of operations against rogue states or the war on terror, may have adopted certain measures officially or otherwise that have violated its own Constitution and laws. In the fog of war, such actions may take place, but are later subject to judicial or administrative review.

            The Iran Contra deal was in violation of a trade embargo adopted by the US Congress. The perpetrators were prosecuted and those found guilty were jailed. In the war on terror, the US Supreme Court has ruled against many administrative measures taken by the Bush administration and the Obama administration has repudiated some of them as well.

            The case of Filipinos on death row in China for violating criminal laws on drug trafficking is another matter. My point was that the US would never countenance intervening on such cases that involve their citizens violating the laws of another country by compromising their position on human rights. They would use other forms of diplomacy, other courses of action, but not the one that our government officially took.

  • MB, it does have the feel of a hostage negotiation, doesn’t it? Those mandarins have really found our soft spot. Now that a bad precedent has been set, I fear for what will happen next.

    • Manuelbuencamino

      No. Citing Iran-Contra was just to emphasize that not everybody walks the talk. Exceptions are made when national interest demands that they be made.

      Trying to save Filipinos from the death sentence in exchange for boycotting a dubious peace prize is not necessarily a bad precedent.

      A word about the Nobel prizes: My low regard to this peace prize does not extend to the other Nobel categories. For all I know their prizes for physics, chemistry etc are okay. I don’t know those subjects well enough to make a call. But I do know that the peace prize is highly political and not always in the best best interest of mankind. Henry Kissinger’s peace prize is what destroyed my faith in the prize.

      • MB, with the greatest respect, I don’t think we can equate the Iran/Contra deal with the boycott by the Philippines. For one, the deal was covert and was not an official policy adopted by the US government (which is why people were indicted and put behind bars for planning and implementing it), ours was according to PNoy.

  • MB, it does have the feel of a hostage negotiation, doesn’t it? Those mandarins have really found our soft spot. Now that a bad precedent has been set, I fear for what will happen next.

    • Manuelbuencamino

      No. Citing Iran-Contra was just to emphasize that not everybody walks the talk. Exceptions are made when national interest demands that they be made.

      Trying to save Filipinos from the death sentence in exchange for boycotting a dubious peace prize is not necessarily a bad precedent.

      A word about the Nobel prizes: My low regard to this peace prize does not extend to the other Nobel categories. For all I know their prizes for physics, chemistry etc are okay. I don’t know those subjects well enough to make a call. But I do know that the peace prize is highly political and not always in the best best interest of mankind. Henry Kissinger’s peace prize is what destroyed my faith in the prize.

      • MB, with the greatest respect, I don’t think we can equate the Iran/Contra deal with the boycott by the Philippines. For one, the deal was covert and was not an official policy adopted by the US government (which is why people were indicted and put behind bars for planning and implementing it), ours was according to PNoy.

  • Manuelbuencamino

    Doy,

    1) “For the sake of the safety of its citizens overseas, the United States would never countenance sacrificing its core principles in the same manner. And the reason is that that nation regards America as not just consisting of its people, but of an idea. And it is that Idea (that all men are created equal) that they are willing to put their citizens in harm’s way in defense of.”

    Remember the Iran-Contra deal during Ronald Reagan’s presidency?

    2) Are some people’s rights more human than others?

    Well, there is that saying that goes, “My country and my people first…” So the answer to your question is a sad Yes.

    And for as long as there are nation-states, we will be made to suffer its consequences. States will prioritize their nationals over others.

  • Manuelbuencamino

    Doy,

    1) “For the sake of the safety of its citizens overseas, the United States would never countenance sacrificing its core principles in the same manner. And the reason is that that nation regards America as not just consisting of its people, but of an idea. And it is that Idea (that all men are created equal) that they are willing to put their citizens in harm’s way in defense of.”

    Remember the Iran-Contra deal during Ronald Reagan’s presidency?

    2) Are some people’s rights more human than others?

    Well, there is that saying that goes, “My country and my people first…” So the answer to your question is a sad Yes.

    And for as long as there are nation-states, we will be made to suffer its consequences. States will prioritize their nationals over others.