Ex-UN chief: America has ‘lost its moral compass’ 5

From Times Online

The United States has lost its moral compass and fallen out of step with the rest of the world in the wake of September 11, the former United Nations human rights commissioner has warned. Mary Robinson expressed sadness and regret at America’s erosion of human rights as part of its “War on Terror”. In a speech in central London, Mrs Robinson praised the British courts for taking a global lead on interpreting international human rights laws.

Highlighting the US’s opposition last week to the creation of a new UN Human Rights Council, Mrs Robinson said: “It illustrates the seismic shift which has taken place in the relation of the US to global rule of law issues. Today, the US no longer leads, but is too often seen merely to march out of step with the rest of the world.”

She added that she hoped it was a “temporary loss of moral compass”.

Speaking at an event organised by human rights and law reform group Justice, Mrs Robinson – who is also the former President of Ireland – criticised government’s use of Big Brother-style language to cover up their activities. “Misuse of language has also led to Orwellian euphemisms, so that ‘coercive interrogation’ is used instead of torture, or cruel and inhuman treatment; kidnapping becomes ‘extraordinary rendition’,” she said.

The former Irish leader disputed the argument that the post 9/11 world meant that human rights could be curtailed in the name of security. This would lead to democracies “losing the moral high ground”, she said. “Almost five years after 9/11, I think we must be honest in recognising how far international commitment to human rights standards has slipped in such a short time,” she told an audience at Middle Temple Hall.

“In the US in particular, the ambivalence about torture, the use of extraordinary rendition and the extension of presidential powers have all had a powerful ‘knock on’ effect around the world, often in countries that lack the checks and balances of independent courts, a free press and vigorous non-governmental organisation and academic communities.

“The establishment of an off-shore prison in Guantanamo (and) its retention in the face of the most principled and sustained criticism … are all aspects of this situation.”

Mrs Robinson went on: “The tables have turned, and it is UK rather than US courts which are taking a lead as interpreters of fundamental human rights, on the basis of the European Convention and – by extension – the body of international human rights treaty law.

“This new situation is well illustrated by recent House of Lords decisions, most notably their ruling that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in any proceedings before UK courts.” But she warned that “political decisions” in Britain – such as pre-trial detention periods or limiting the right to peaceful demonstration – could become examples used to justify the behaviour by the state in less democratic countries.

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5 thoughts on “Ex-UN chief: America has ‘lost its moral compass’

  • Friendly Fire

    Interesting to see Mary Robinson raise her head above the parapet, NOW…. After all it was the US that shafted her when she was head of the UNHCR.

  • Chuck Unsworth

    Maybe Robinson is indulging in a certain light reprisal here, but that does not overturn her arguments. It's all too easy to deflect scrutiny by questioning the motives of individuals and articulating unprovable aspertions about others' integrity. And it's a standard political response so beloved of our current leaders. That technique is in itself a fine example of exactly how not only has America lost its moral compass, but so also has Britain.

    I think Mary Robinson is right. The standard reply to any criticism of the present Government or its leaders and many of its officials is the mantra 'I've done nothing wrong'. What this actually means is 'I've done nothing illegal' or, worse 'I've done nothing which can be traced back to me'.

    Where incontrovertible evidence is produced (by others) of

    malfeasance or misfeasance the standard response is to say that 'lessons will be learned'.

    Surely the art of good governance and fair governance is to anticipate and take necessary action? Both this and the American administration has repeated failed to do that, despite prolonged warnings from many parties as to the folly of their plans in all sorts of fields.

    Both governments are now mired in allegation and innuendo as to their integrities. Well, live by the sword, die by the sword.

  • Richard II

    Chuck wrote: "…live by the sword, die by the sword."

    If only! The only deaths I can see are civilian ones.

    Politicians can literally get away with murder. No one holds them to account, least of all the prime minister.

  • Richard II

    The Times Online article says: "The United States has lost its moral compass"

    I'm not sure it ever had one – at least, not regarding foreign policy.

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