What is troubling you, senator?

26 October 1997

Double standard is a principle or rule applied more strictly to some people than others or oneself. In international relations and economics, "to some people" means the underdeveloped or developing world, "to others" refers to the Western and developed hemisphere, and "to oneself", I would imagine is the United States, the sole superpower.

The US and its allies and the countries in the South all indulge in double standards, and most of the times in doublespeak. For example, both Princess Diana and Prince Charles had affairs but hers seemed justified while his appeared comic.

In the Diana-Charles love saga the late princess had emerged a clear winner: the heroine. Whatever indiscretions she committed did not matter, she only made the world loved her more.

When Charles cheated, he was a pig. When Diana did it she was only exercising a choice because she was badly neglected and abandoned by a heartless and uncaring husband.

Charles was cuckolded but few people were prepared to see him as the martyr of a tragic loveless love story. His devotion to his long-time amour, Camilla Parker-Bowles, did not count in his favour at all.

In a figure of speech or by way of illustration, Charles is like the South and developing world, always the sufferer, and the legendary Diana was and is the rich and powerful North, always getting away with murder.

When China, Iran, Indonesia, Cuba, Myanmar, Iraq and some Central African and Latin American countries allegedly breached human rights, they are pilloried infinitely and threatened with economic sanctions and trade embargo. But when the US, Australia, Israel, the former Yugoslavia and other white nations commit similar excesses they are excused. What happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a clear case.

For Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kenya and two or three other nations in Latin America and Central America where American economic interests and strategic importance are immense, they are not only absolved but are assisted and rewarded!

I will give one or two examples of a double standard. A UN investigation into the death penalty in the US has provoked a strong and furious reaction from Senator Jesse Helms of Georgia. The conservative and anti-UN senator, who chairs the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had denounced as "an absurd charade" and "an intentional insult" a visit by Bacre Waly Nadiaye to the US. Nadiaye is an African (a Senegalese) investigator for the UN Human Rights Commission.

Helms...the conservative and anti-UN senatorThe Senegalese, a former Amnesty International official, is the new UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions. He had spent two weeks in the US interviewing death row inmates and talking with state, city and jail officials as part of an inquiry into capital punishment and deaths in police custody.

Nadiaye is the only second UN Human Rights investigator to visit the US.

What is troubling you, senator? Doesn't the US routinely push for vigorous human rights investigations elsewhere in the world?

The UN Human Rights investigator's visit didn't sit well with Helms, according to the American media. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms holds the key to any compromise on paying off Washington's obligatory debt of US$1.5 billion (RM 5 billion) to the UN.

To date not a cent has been paid despite three personal assurances by President Bill Clinton himself that Washington will soon settle its long non-performing account. How soon is soon is the question.