If you’re born in a country that, at the moment of your birth, already grants you your fundamental rights, you’re already more privileged than over half the population of the planet. Other people elsewhere have to literally die so that their children get a shot at these rights. I recognize of course that many countries recognize these rights legally but fail miserably when it comes to actual implementation. Even then, you’re more privileged than the billions whose country doesn’t even legal guarantee their rights. I mean, you still have a shot at justice. You have a right to protest. You have a right to sue. You have a right to organize or to join a movement. You have a right to vote. You have the right to tweet without ending up in a torture dungeon. Billions of others don’t have that.
But not everyone who hates dictators is a humanitarian – I’ve met plenty of people who cheer for those fighting dictatorships, but are actually racists. Yes, It is an uncomfortable fact that the human rights community is full of them. There isn’t a lofty ideal that scoundrels can’t hide behind. Human rights is no different. There are people who point to human rights abuses in North Korea to minimize or dismiss the human rights abuses that happen within their own countries. In other words, obsessing about the evil of non-white societies is for them a way to ignore the crimes committed by their own societies or governments, who use the terrible nature of brown/black dictatorships to make the the human rights abuses of their own favorite governments seem less horrible in comparison.
You see, a cup looks big in front of a thimble, but put a bucket next to it and it looks small. At this point of human history, there are more human rights abuses happening within non-white countries than within white countries. Human rights work is the bucket that this particular kind of racist puts next to his own country’s HR record – it makes it look less bad in comparison, and hence makes it easier to ignore, and makes it easier to continue to be “proud” of oneself. There are also others, those for whom “human rights” is an essentially Western concept – I guess they missed the “human” part of human rights – so for them human rights means brown & black people trying to become like us.
Highlighting the crimes of Assad, Sisi, Al Saud etc is moral, unless you’re only doing that in order to distract from the crimes of your own favorite more “civilized” governments, that kill with as much impunity but clothe it in better language. In doing so, these people are actually taking a leaf from the same Arab tyrants they obsess about. Sisi has repeated many times that “At least we’re not like Syria”. Gulf dictatorships and the Iranian regime have also used similar lines.
You wanna know if they’re human rights activists (rather than racists trying to hide behind human rights)? See if they’re angered by all human rights abuses regardless the country committing them, or the humans that are being abused. Just like we can walk & chew gum at the same time, we can oppose human rights abuses within democracies, by democracies, within dictatorships, and by dictatorships. It’s not an either/or. We don’t have to whitewash any to oppose the others. If you want to be human rights defender you don’t get to pick & choose which humans have rights worth defending and which don’t.