Published on Saturday, July 2, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
Lip Service to Human Rights
by Christopher Brauchli
What became of the friends I had
With whom I was always so close
And loved so dearly?
-- Rutebeuf (d.1280) La Complainte Rutebeuf
It’s just not the same as living in Texas. In Texas everyone was his friend. They liked him, his parents, his siblings, and Laura. They gave him nice presents like the 10 % interest in the Rangers baseball team that was described here recently. And above all they were loyal. It’s not the same in other parts of the world. No matter how much he tries to be really nice to other leaders, they keep doing things that aren’t nice and make him look dumb. In Texas at least, friends don’t do that to friends.
First it was Uzbekistan. After 9/11 Uzbekistan was really nice to Mr. Bush and Mr. Bush was really nice to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan said Mr. Bush could use a military base on its border with Afghanistan and Mr. Bush promised it lots of aid. Mr. Bush invited Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov to the White House for a visit and Mr. Karimov invited Mr. Bush’s prisoners to Uzbekistan for torture. With such a wonderful relationship it seems impossible that it could all go south. But south it went in May.
In mid-May in the Uzbek city of Andijon hundreds of civilians were killed in a government crackdown on an anti-government demonstration. The crackdown was described by the government as a counter-terrorism operation, having learned from Mr. Bush, that if it’s called counter-terrorism, anything goes. Uzbek intelligence people, military folk and Ministry of Internal Affairs were all there participating in the massacre. Many of them were good at what they were doing because they’d been trained in the United States and been given the weapons they used in the massacre by the United States. One diplomat who spoke to a New York Times reporter said the general in charge of the operation and President Karimov coordinated the assault. President Karimov will not permit outsiders to come in to probe the causes of the massacre.
If news from Uzbekistan wasn’t bad enough, Mr. Bush must have really been disappointed in his VERY good friend, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.
During Mr. Musharraf’s Christmas time visit to the White House Mr. Bush said: “There is nobody more dedicated in the protection of his own people than President Musharraf.” That was then and this is now and once again Mr. Bush is betrayed by a really good friend. It’s all because of Mukhtaran Mahai who lives in rural Pakistan.
Ms. Mukhtaran’s younger brother had sex with a woman from a higher caste than he. The tribal council concluded that justice demanded that Ms. Mukhtaran be gang raped and then forced to walk home almost naked. Ms. Mukhtaran has uncommon courage and determination. She testified against the rapists at their criminal trial. She took $8300 she received as compensation from the government and used it to open a school for boys and a school for girls in her village. Nicolas Kristoff of the New York times wrote of her ordeal and thereafter she received $133,000 more from readers of his column. She used that money to open a shelter for battered women and bought an ambulance for her village.
With that kind of grit and determination you would think Mr. Musharraf would have held her up as an example of what a truly courageous person can do since President Musharraf is, in Mr. Bush’s own words “dedicated to the protection of his own people.” It turns out that doesn’t include Ms. Mukhtaran.
On June 18, 2005 she was to visit the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Women in the United States. Upon learning of her intention to leave Pakistan Mr. Musharraf’s government had her arrested because the government feared she might say things when abroad that would adversely affect Pakistan’s image abroad. She might have told the world that the sentences of the six men who had been convicted of raping her had been overturned and five of the rapists set free. If the government kept her at home so it thought, bad press could be avoided. It was wrong.
When news of her plight reached the outside world, pressure was applied to the Pakistan government to release her and permit her to travel abroad. The government relented. Ms. Mukhtaran is now free to leave Pakistan and describe life in that country to those concerned with human rights. Messrs. Musharraf and Karimov are not among that group. Their absence would be a disappointment to Mr. Bush if he himself gave more than lip service to human rights. As it is, he probably doesn’t much care. (On June 28 the Pakistan Supreme Court ordered all of the men involved in the rape rearrested and held until the trial. Unlike President Musharraf it may care what the outside world thinks.)
Christopher Brauchli can be reached at Brauchli.firstname.lastname@example.org