Human rights must trump economic gain

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In 2020, it cannot be that Western democracies continue to prioritize economic interests over addressing the mass suffering of populations. As global citizens in an age with increasing abilities to access information at the touch of our fingertips, we too cannot remain silent while the human rights of the most vulnerable are abused.

In July, new evidence and images of Chinese concentration camps were exposed, showing Uighurs being forced onto trains to be taken to these areas of imprisonment. Investigative journalists have reported on the conditions and intentions of these camps, which include efforts to brainwash, to sterilize, and to harm this Chinese minority population. There have been stories of family members who have disappeared, and of journalists put in jail for reporting on these atrocities. Those who speak out against the Chinese regime and its efforts to systematically eradicate the Uighur population suffer dire consequences.

Despite what would surely fit the definition of a crime against humanity, contrary to the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine, little if any action has been taken by the Western world. Where are the UN mandated sanctions, the bilateral trade embargos, or the other political and economic efforts that might pressure China into stopping these blatant violations of human right? Instead, in an Orwellian reality, China and its officials hold prestigious positions in international bodies and are regularly provided a platform at the UN Human Rights Council to enshrine their propaganda.

In a consistently flawed reality, China is not the only country whose human rights abuses are ignored or overlooked, encouraging and enabling a continued culture of impunity. Iran too systematically violates rights of free speech and religion and of its female population. Met with international silence, political prisoners remain behind bars, with lone voices, such as human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, risking their lives to fight for freedom. Just last week yet another Iranian human rights dissident, Masih Alinejad, reported receiving threats of kidnapping, including public threats made on Twitter, with no consequences taken against those furthering them.

While the populations of China and Iran call out for our help, the West remains blinded by self-interest and short-term economic gains. Rumors of renegotiating an agreement with Iran in light of the upcoming elections in the U.S. are abundant, and trade with China continues unabated. The recent UN Security Council decision to discontinue the arms embargo against Iran exposes the extent of the double standard that empowers rogue regimes, to the detriment of their own populations first and foremost.

We cannot remain on this path that ignores outright brutal human rights violations of innocent civilians and rewards ruthless regimes with tax breaks, treaties, and more.

In order to uphold our responsibility in the name of universal human rights in general, and in the name of the Uighars and Iranian people in particular, the West must begin to shift its trade dependence and economic interests respectively away from these abusive regimes, holding them to account. Silence in the face of blatant violations signal that there are no implications or consequences, further empowering rogue regimes. Trade can and should be used to incentivize peace, and the benefits that come with it only provided to those that uphold international law and rights. Likewise, sanctions must be utilized as a tool against those that violate them.

Some might argue that sanctions and trade embargos will harm the people of China, or that they have harmed the people of Iran. Yet this viewpoint is shortsighted, and echoes the rhetoric of the regimes in power. The people of China and Iran must be able to live freely and prosper. They can and must be released from the physical and conceptual captivity to which they are hostage.

For human rights to realize their potential, they must trump economic gain. The necessary paradigm shift requires consistency, transparency, creativity, and the identification of authentic opportunities that can be built upon solid foundational values, in the name of prosperity and peace.

Michal Cotler-Wunsh is a Member of Knesset for the Blue and White Party in Israel.

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