We are not particularly enamoured of US reports on human rights in foreign countries for several reasons, if only their own internal situation and their progressive loss of moral stature that has accompanied the de-credibilisation of a post-war world order that was based on US and Western institutions. International courts of justice and other watchdogs have been increasingly perceived by around half the planet as perverted and biased to condemn a variety of Third World leaders or even President Putin, while political leaders of the mighty Western powers are free to wage wars and reprisals without any consequences.
Increasingly powerful countries like India, Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico or Indonesia, not to mention their continents, are host to some 45% of the world population and their combined GDP exceeds that of the EU, yet they feel that their voices fail to matter in those Western institutions that regularly inspect or report on their social and human rights conditions from the liberal, western perspective.
But, as stated by the State Department’s website, “for nearly 50 years, the US Country Reports on Human Rights Practices have served as a vital resource for governments, researchers, advocacy groups, journalists, and voices of conscience worldwide that work to promote respect for human rights and accountability for injustice”. There is undoubtedly soft power in those reports, particularly as they influence narratives and viewpoints of international agencies or the World Bank and the IMF, and are probably scrutinised by potential investors, individual, corporate or international funds.
It was perhaps no coincidence that the current government’s waywardness landed us in hot soup with the FATF grey list and, shortly thereafter, the EU blacklist. Nobody really wants to invest in countries where the rule of law can be twisted to serve political ends, where human rights are being abused without functioning checks and balances, where democratic rights of various groups are being trampled upon or where the Judiciary fails to act, or acts rather selectively, as ultimate guardian of our democratic space. They cannot therefore be dismissed lightly as our Foreign ministry veterans would be aware.
The State Department Report on Human Rights practices does not mince words to depict situations it considers anomalous, and its language is usually forthright and even blunt at times, eliciting responses from countries which feel unduly targeted on specific issues. The Mauritius Report has been out this March (available on the State Dept website) and excerpts have been reported in local media, while a reaction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is expected sometime soon.
The Executive Summary makes several biting indictments on a number of issues that have been here bones of contention with government from observers, lawyers, civil rights activists and NGOs. These range from
(a) Police brutality: the allegations of police brutality and abuse, with viral videos that had Mauritians shocked, while 3 officers were arrested and released on bail and 7 others transferred. The Report notes that “political interference and a culture of impunity within the police force contributed to making impunity a problem.”
(b) Arbitrary arrests: The Report did not fail to mention the arrest on drug-related charges of lawyer Akil Bissessur and his companion or activist Bruneau Laurette and his son, both outspoken critics of the authorities, while DNA tests revealed no trace of their DNA on alleged incriminating packets.
(c) Harassment: Freedom of expression is broadly protected, but the Report notes the alleged propensity of government to use various means to harass opponents, journalists and activists, block their websites, tap their phones or track their movements.
(d) Corruption: The government is perceived as acting selectively on the several reported or alleged cases of corruption of public officers (including Ministers) contributing again to a culture of impunity. The latest ‘Stag and Black Label party’ allegations were not public knowledge at the time of the Report.
The ramifications of such a Report could well go beyond the investor community. Our National Assembly has been watched by all Embassies and Consulates as a circus for some years now with its rigmarole of expulsions of legitimately elected MPs, who cannot exercise their functions and where embarrassing questions are waylaid.
On the geopolitical front, the UK and USA are, it seems, dragging the Chagos issue around and nothing in the Report suggests that the USA would be amenable to good faith discussions with Port-Louis on direct lease of its Diego Garcia base. Time will tell.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 21 April 2023
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