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The Paradoxes of U.S. Human Rights Diplomacy


Puriya Kalwar

The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China has released a meticulously prepared 25-page report on human rights violations in the United States in 2023. This document highlights discrepancies between the United States’ stated commitments to human rights and its actual domestic and international practices. While the U.S. positions itself as a global champion of human rights, this report underscores the political motivations underlying America’s use of human rights as a tool for global hegemony.

The United States has often leveraged human rights to justify its actions and influence globally. However, this report uncovers contradictions within its own borders, including political dysfunction, systemic racism, economic inequality, and civil liberties violations. These issues undermine the moral authority the U.S. claims in its human rights advocacy.

China’s report is not just a critique; it is a guide for the international community. By exposing these inconsistencies, it invites countries to scrutinize the true motivations behind the U.S.’s human rights discourse. This report encourages global leaders to question whether the U.S. is genuinely committed to the principles it espouses or if these principles are being used to maintain geopolitical power.

Furthermore, this document calls for a more balanced and equitable approach to human rights on a global scale. It urges nations to look beyond the surface of U.S. policies and consider the broader implications of its actions. In doing so, it promotes a more inclusive dialogue on human rights, one that respects the sovereignty of nations and recognizes the diverse paths to achieving human dignity and justice.

Deceptive Diplomacy and Human Rights Manipulation

Since the late 1970s, the U.S.’s emphasis on human rights and universal values has often served as a façade for its diplomatic maneuvers. U.S. administrations have taken the moral high ground, promoting concepts like human rights diplomacy, humanitarianism, human rights over sovereignty, and humanitarian intervention, particularly after the Cold War. Washington has positioned itself as a human rights advocate, humanitarian enforcer, and global protector of human rights. It has used universal human rights values as a pretext for its interventions on a global scale.

The U.S. government, along with influential elites within the country, has exposed the reality of its human rights diplomacy, particularly through its reaction to recent pro-Palestinian protests on U.S. campuses, which call for an end to the ongoing Israeli atrocities against Palestine. This response highlights how the U.S. and its allies determine who is deemed deserving of human rights. The U.S.’s double standards, contradictory humanitarianism, and human rights diplomacy, shaped by a small group of powerful interests, pose a significant global concern.

Political Dysfunction and Civil Rights Violations

The report highlights the U.S. government’s shortcomings in handling political disputes, internal dysfunction, and its inability to safeguard civil and political rights. The intense rivalry between the two primary political factions has resulted in a stalemate, showcasing a distinctive aspect of American democracy in action.  Both political parties exhibit a remarkable level of skill in manipulating elections. The influence of money in politics is also undeniable, with campaign spending reaching unprecedented heights. In the 2023 Kentucky gubernatorial elections, candidates from both sides collectively spent a staggering $91 million on campaign advertisements whic is more than three times the amount spent in 2019.

Gun violence remains a pressing issue, with nearly 43,000 people dying from gun violence in 2023, averaging 117 deaths per day. Despite these tragic figures, meaningful gun control measures remain elusive, highlighting the government’s failure to address one of the nation’s most pressing crises. Police brutality is also significant, with at least 1,247 deaths attributed to police violence in 2023, the highest number since 2013. This lack of accountability perpetuates a cycle of violence and mistrust between the police and the communities they are supposed to protect.

Mass Incarceration and Racial Injustice

The U.S. is characterized as a ‘carceral state,’ with only 5 percent of the global population but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. This reflects systemic issues within the criminal justice system, where mass incarceration is a norm. Political manipulation of elections through gerrymandering and repeated crises in the House of Representatives further erode public trust in the federal government, which is 16% as of 2023.

Racism remains deeply entrenched in American society, particularly within the police force and the criminal justice system. The report cites United Nations experts who highlight systemic racism against African Americans. This racism extends to healthcare, where African American women face a maternal mortality rate nearly three times that of white women. Asian Americans also face significant discrimination, with nearly 60 percent reporting racial bias, exacerbated by policies like the China Initiative, which targets Chinese scientists. The proliferation of racist ideologies across various sectors, including social media, music, and gaming, makes the U.S. a major exporter of extreme racism globally.

Economic Inequality and the “Working Poor”

Economic inequality in the U.S. is a significant concern, particularly with the increasing number of “working poor” individuals struggling to make ends meet. The report underscores the long-standing disparities in income distribution, which have resulted in the most severe wealth gap since the Great Depression of 1929. Despite the presence of 11.5 million low-income working families, the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant since 2009, significantly reducing its purchasing power. This economic strain compels many families to sacrifice basic necessities such as food, rent, and energy, resulting in over 650,000 people experiencing homelessness, the highest number in 16 years. The disillusionment experienced by the working poor undermines the concept of the American Dream and contributes to widespread labor strikes.

Gender and Children’s Rights

The U.S. faces criticism for its systematic disregard of women’s and children’s rights, notably lacking constitutional provisions for gender equality. Remarkably, the U.S. remains the only UN member state yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women or the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2023, the Senate rejected a constitutional amendment aimed at ensuring gender equality. Pregnancy discrimination leads to around 54,000 women losing their jobs annually, and more than 2.2 million women of childbearing age lack access to maternity care. Furthermore, stringent abortion laws in at least 21 states further diminish women’s rights. Sexual violence remains prevalent across various settings, while children’s rights are imperiled by inadequate healthcare, gun violence, and drug abuse. The underreporting of missing foster children further underscores the negligence of children’s welfare.

Immigration and Hegemony

Immigration policies in the U.S. are marred by exclusion and discrimination, continuing a legacy from historical injustices like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the recent “Muslim Ban” of 2017. Immigration has become a tool for partisan gain, with policies reduced to political theatrics that ignore the rights and welfare of immigrants. This results in widespread arrests, human trafficking, and exploitation of immigrants, highlighting the hypocrisy and polarization in U.S. politics.

International Actions and Military Interventions

Internationally, the U.S. faces accusations of pursuing hegemony, engaging in power politics, and exploiting its military strength. The ongoing supply of weapons, including cluster munitions, worsens regional conflicts and leads to numerous civilian casualties and humanitarian crises. Extensive operations involving “proxy forces” destabilize societies in other countries, while the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay prison serves as a symbol of the U.S.’s defiance of international human rights standards.

Weaponizing Human Rights for Geopolitical Gain

The blatant disregard for human rights by the U.S. is starkly evident in its apathy towards the deaths and injuries of over 110,000 civilians in Gaza, alongside its repeated vetoing of four UN Security Council resolutions urging an immediate ceasefire. This serves as compelling evidence of the U.S.’s disdain for human rights principles.

Human rights serve as mere instruments for the U.S. to rally its allies and partners in suppressing its adversaries. Despite the need for cooperation with China on various fronts, the U.S. simultaneously denigrates China, revealing that human rights and democracy are not genuinely cherished values but rather bargaining tools in its foreign policy toolkit.

On the domestic front, the U.S. has consistently failed to uphold its promises of protecting human rights. Internationally, the U.S. government’s purported commitment to human rights serves as a cover for its underlying agenda of seeking global dominance.

The annual U.S. human rights reports consistently target the Chinese mainland while separately addressing Taiwan, directly challenging the one-China principle and politicizing human rights. Year after year, Washington utilizes these reports to denigrate and defame China on issues such as Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong. For four decades, the U.S. Human Rights Report has served as a tool for categorizing nations based on their alignment with U.S. interests. Countries deemed “unfriendly” or competitors are frequently highlighted, whereas U.S. allies receive minimal attention. The U.S. prioritizes a country’s alignment with its geopolitical goals over its human rights record and democratic practices.

The U.S. State Department consistently publishes the “Human Rights Report” annually, utilizing it as a tool for exerting pressure on and influencing other nations. It is also used to criticize and marginalize competitors, while serving as a means of political reward for allies, categorizing countries into various tiers. U.S. practices prioritizing its own interests over the welfare of people worldwide, employing tactics of dominance under the guise of “human rights,” and persistently resorting to interference and sanctions to advance its agenda on the global stage.

*The author is a London-based analyst originally from Pakistan, with a research focus on China-US relations, human rights, and terrorism. 

**The opinions in this article are the author’s own and may not represent the views of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization does not endorse or assume responsibility for the content.

The Diplomatic Insight is a digital and print magazine focusing on diplomacy, defense, and development since 2009.

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