I’ve been sent a copy of a report from the PCUSA’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (not yet online, unfortunately, but it should be before long). Viola Larson has already blogged on this today, and I’d ask that you also take a look at her post on the same subject. I’d like to offer a second perspective, though I don’t think my view of it will be substantially different from hers.
Entitled “Human Rights Update 2010,” it deals at length with three subjects: human trafficking, immigration detention, and torture. Interestingly, the introduction says that the paper is answering “several requests, or referrals, from the 2008 General Assembly.” Those requests didn’t include anything on torture (the first two items are included), but did include this:
2008 Referral: Item 07-01. On Calling for Tolerance and Peaceful Relations Between the Christian and Muslim Communities, Recommendation 6. Identify Violations of the Civil Rights of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the United States and Other Areas of the World, Along with Other Incidents of Violation of Religious Freedoms, as Part of the Regular Human Rights Report to the General Assembly—From the Presbytery of Newton (Minutes, 2008, Part I, pp. 14, 15, 507–10).
This is not dealt with at length, but instead is briefly handled in the introduction. I need to quote in full what is said about this subject, which looks meant to be wide-ranging and global:
To speak directly to this third referral, in the case of this General Assembly, the most substantial discussion of Muslim, Jewish and Christian interreligious incidents is in the historical perspective appendix to the Middle East report. They cite the U.S. State Department Religious Liberty report on Israel and the Occupied Territories, finding discrimination against both Muslims and Christians and neglect of their holy sites. The nature of Church/State or religion/state issues differs, of course, in Muslim majority countries and Israel. The instances of torture discussed in the third section of this Update largely include Muslim detainees, and certainly religiously linked extremism is affecting the conditions of Christian minorities in certain conflict areas. We expect to do more with this referral in the future.
In previous years, prior to the Internet posting of human rights violations, this update included surveys of human rights situations from each of the World Mission regional liaison offices. The Washington Office provided a brief survey of domestic U.S. criminal justice issues, such as prison over-crowding or needed rehabilitation. And a section from the United Nations Office contained information on significant new treaties or “conventions,” part of the continued construction of moral structures and expectations for the international social order. We continue that practice in the “For Future Consideration” section.
Because of the on-line availability of up-to-date information on human rights abuses, the Advisory Committee’s current approach to the Human Rights Update focuses on trends. In 2006, this was the acceptance of torture by the United States government, along with indefinite detention without due process and new forms of government surveillance. Five presbyteries also asked for action on this matter and called for an investigation by an Independent Counsel and possible prosecution by the Department of Justice. In 2008, the committee responded to a referral on human rights in the Philippines that also looked at the use of the “war on terror” as a justification for human rights violations. The General Assembly used part of that report to create an additional short resolution on human rights in Colombia, where similar dynamics are documented. In all such cases, we consulted with indigenous church partners. The Latin America regional office, the Peacemaking Program, and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship have also continued to monitor the situation in Colombia, and both mission co-workers, volunteers and notably the Rev. Larry Emery of Walnut Grove (CA) Presbyterian Church monitor the Philippine situation.
So, what’s missing from this recitation of human rights abuses and civil rights violations involving Muslims, Christians, and Jews, as well as violations of religious freedom, in various parts of the world? How about the following:
•Christians continue to be subjected to repeated lethal attack in Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Sudan, and Iraq, to name just a few.
•Religious freedom and civil rights for Christians are under attack or non-existent in Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Morocco, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Burma, to name a few more.
•Anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise throughout Europe, especially in countries with significant Muslim immigration, such as Great Britain, France, and Sweden.
•While there have certainly been human rights violations in Columbia and the Philippines (both of which are fighting ferocious insurgencies in the form of the Marxist FARC and separatist Muslims, respectively), there is no mention of far more widespread and systematic violations in any of Freedom House’s “Worst of the Worst” list for 2009: Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Chad, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Zimbabwe, not to mention the territories of Chechnya and Tibet. Many of these are guilty of large-scale religious freedom violations.
So, with the human rights situation looking really bad for a significant portion of the world’s population, one what does the ACSWP focus? Israel, of course. Despite the fact that the average North Korean, or the average Sudanese Christian, would think that he or she had died and gone to heaven if they were able to move to Jericho or Ramallah, much less Israel, the Usual Suspect gets singled out, along with the United States (!), and two nations fighting civil wars. That’s not to excuse any human rights violations that takes place in any of those countries, only to say that the focus on them is at the very least a bizarre form of tunnel vision.
Now, I do need to add that the section on human trafficking does a good job of naming names as far as various countries are concerned, and that’s to be applauded. Evangelicals have been lifting their voices in Washington on this subject for over a decade, and have been heard at the State Department at least, and the participation of mainliners in the fight against human trafficking is only to be welcomed.
But then in the second section, the focus is again on one country, in this case the United States, which is apparently the only place where illegal immigration results in detention. The third section is also devoted exclusively to the U.S., and contains this utterly ridiculous statement:
What are the costs of allowing torture regimes all over the world to legitimate themselves by our example?…An increasing number of brutal regimes, including China, have defended their use of torture by citing the U.S. example.
Right. The Chinese, who have killed and tortured their own people by the tens of millions for the last sixty years, can use Guantanamo in their defense. If it weren’t for Guantanamo, China would be forced by an angry world to stop mistreating its people. And so would Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Zimbabwe, etc., etc.
So there you have it. A report that is supposed to look at human rights abuses and civil rights and religious freedom violations, and pretty much all of the most vicious regimes get a pass. By and large, it’s a report worthy of the U.N. Human Rights Council, from which it takes its cue.
UPDATE: I’m told this may not be the final version of this report. If not, I’ll come back to it with any further information.
UPDATE: According to Viola Larson, the report is final. So my comments stand.