Look who's talking

10 August 2008

Look who's talking

The first thing I do in the morning when I am in The Hague is put the television on. Thursday morning was no exception. I saw US President George W. Bush turn red in the face, on his trip around Thailand, as he delivered a severe admonishment to China. He said that the Chinese leaders must respect people's liberty and comply with fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the rights of workers.

Jan de Wit By Jan de Wit

In this Bush was completely correct. The Chinese have still a great deal to do, as almost the whole world has recently been telling them. Nevertheless what immediately came to my mind were two other recent pieces of news. News about the US itself. The first concerns Osama Bin Laden's chauffeur, the chauffeur of the world's most wanted terrorist. This man, the chauffeur, was found guilty by a military jury in Guantanamo Bay of support for terrorism. He has already been in the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba without any form of trial. He was given a military officer to defend him, was not allowed to see all of the dossiers relating to his case, and was judged by military personnel behind closed doors. The man's lawyer declared that the evidence employed would not have been permitted in a normal trial because it had been extracted under pressure – in other words by torture. “I don't know if there was any possibility of a fair verdict”, the lawyer added.

Then there is also the manner in which the chauffeur was treated by the US, in direct conflict with the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The US was here in breach of fundamental human rights, namely those relating to the right to a fair trial.

The second piece of news came from Texas. In this state, where Bush was once governor, a Mexican man was executed on Tuesday evening after being condemned to death for a double murder. The death penalty is now an inadmissible form of punishment and even in the United States is at the moment the subject of heated debate and of legal procedures. But in this case, according to human rights organisations, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and in the view even of the US federal government, the execution was not lawful. This was because a fundamental right guaranteed by the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations had been breached, in that the man had never been allowed to call on the support of the Mexican consul.

So, Mr Bush, there's quite enough work to be done in the US itself when it comes to fundamental human rights. As perhaps the best-known song by perhaps our best-known singer, Boudewijn de Groot puts it - “Meneer de President, welterusten” - “Sleep well, Mr President.”

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