Tongue firmly in cheek: Does the world have a responsibility to protect American victims of atrocities?

Aug 30, 2019

George Mickhail did us all a great service by noting the vast disparity in forceful response to protestors by the police forces of France against the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests), and those of Hong Kong against the anti-China protestors. The French are clearly well ahead of the Hong Kong authorities in the brutality stakes but it’s the latter who draw widespread condemnation in the Western media. This is but yet another explanation  why the Western media has destroyed its credibility in the non-Western world. See the hostility of the government and the indifference of the masses to Western media criticisms of the Indian crackdown in Kashmir. In a similar vein, recalling the criticism of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) as a 21st-century version of Rudyard Kipling’s White Man’s burden, I offer the following extract from The United Nations, Peace and Security (Cambridge University Press, 2017, pp. 291–92 ).

Might there be a case for R2P interventions within the domestic US jurisdiction? In the US criminal justice system, one of the most horrific yet mostly neglected systematic atrocities is prisoner rape. When the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission reported in 2009, 7.3 million people (including juveniles) were incarcerated in US correctional facilities or being supervised in the community. The number of prisoners sexually abused in US jails annually was estimated by the National Commission to be 60,500. But based on a review of several studies on the subject, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow came up with a total of 90,000 – without counting those abused in immigration detention, half-way houses, rehabilitation centres, and other community corrections facilities. In addition to the physical injuries and lifelong psychological damage, prison rape spreads diseases, including HIV/AIDS, out into families and communities as 95 percent of inmates are eventually released.

Henry Porter facetiously drew on statistics compiled by the US Congressional Research Service and to the effect that a total of 1.17 million Americans had been killed in all wars since the 1775 War of Independence. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the number killed by firearms (including suicides) since the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy stood at 1.38 million. That is, a staggering 212,994 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the 45 years 1968–2013 than in all wars involving the US. To take another benchmark, since 9/11 fewer than 20 people had been killed in the US in terrorist incidents and 364,000 had been killed in that period by privately owned guns. With annual death toll from firearms at 32,000, Porter said: ‘If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intervention by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does’.

From the time he became president in 2009 until December 2015, President Barack Obama had to respond to mass shootings – ‘the new normal’ – in Fort Hood, Texas (twice); Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Sandy Hook, Connecticut; Washington, DC; and San Bernardino, California. Obama’s repeated calls to effect meaningful gun reform, made with evident mounting frustration and exasperation, were ignored by Congress. Time and again, the US gun lobby has proven itself too powerful to challenge. The late former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, noting that a person was 15 times more likely to be shot dead in the USA than in Australia, said the Australian government travel advisory to people visiting the US should be updated to reflect this graphic reality.

American and world consciousness has also been sensitised to the reality of the US being the police killings capital of the democratic world. But because, incredibly, the police do not maintain records of civilians killed by police forces across the country, no reliable statistics exist on the exact numbers. But newspapers have begun to compile databases. According to The Guardian, US police killed more people (59) in the first 24 days of 2015 than police in England and Wales killed in the past 24 years (55); and more every week until mid-year in 2015 than by German police in all of 2011 (6) and 2012 (7). According to their website The Counted, the number killed by law enforcement officers in 2015 was 1,138. The Washington Post database counts those killed by police officers and its total by the same date (31 December 2015) was 984. In October 2015, FBI director James Comey conceded it was ‘ridiculous and embarrassing’ that the Guardian and Washington Post kept better data than the US government. In December the FBI announced plans to implement a new system that would match the two newspapers’ and be more authoritative for being official, but is not expected to be operational until 2017. The US qualifies as an R2P-type situation under lack of capacity or willingness to end the preventable mass slaughter of civilians. The one qualification it would not meet, of course, is the balance of consequences test.

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