U.S. Gun Violence Blasted in Rights Report Duel

Sunday saw the publication of China’s Human Rights Record of the United States in 2012, its now traditional retort to the U.S.’ Country Reports on Human Rights Practices issued two days previously. From the Chinese document’s foreword:

[…] As in previous years, the [U.S.] reports are full of carping and irresponsible remarks on the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China. However, the US turned a blind eye to its own woeful human rights situation and never said a word about it. Facts show that there are serious human rights problems in the US which incur extensive criticism in the world. The Human Rights Record of the US in 2012 is hereby prepared to reveal the true human rights situation of the US to people across the world by simply laying down some facts.

The report covers a very broad range of political and social problems, from obstruction at polling stations, domestic surveillance, police brutality, abuses at Guantanamo and military actions abroad to high campaign spending, low election turnout, unemployment, homelessness, racist attacks, “apartheid” on New York’s Upper East Side and child abuse at Penn State. The Diplomat’s Zachary Keck analyzed the two reports’ chosen areas of focus (noting that the U.S. report on human rights in China is “almost entirely what one would expect to see from a U.S. report on human rights in China”):

Many of these [issues] are justifiable in their own right and indeed are issues many Americans regularly raise themselves. Still, it seems odd that the PRC is concerned about them, given how it handles the same issues in its own country. This of course might have been China’s point, since it argues that the U.S. is a hypocrite for issuing reports on the human rights situation in other countries, but not one on the U.S. itself.

One subtle difference between the U.S. and Chinese reports is actually rather telling. Specifically, whereas the U.S. human rights reports focus on mainly political and social issues, China’s report on the focuses heavily on economic issues. For instance, the evidence China cites about ethnic discrimination in America points to minorities’ inferior economic opportunities in society. When criticizing China’s treatment of its ethnic populations, the U.S. report focuses on the level of surveillance and lack of civil and political rights that these groups enjoy.

In the one sense, this may just reflect the fact that each country is more vulnerable to charges of discrimination made on political or economic rights than the other. Still, it seems to me to point to a larger difference on how the Western world in general, but the United States in particular, views human rights, compared to the rest of the world conceives of them.

At the forefront of the Chinese report, though, is America’s failure to protect its citizens from mass shootings like the Colorado theater attack and Sandy Hook school massacre, as well as a steady stream of smaller-scale .

The US was haunted by serious violent crimes in 2012 with frequent occurrence of firearms-related criminal cases. Its people’s lives and personal security were not duly protected.

[…] In 2010, there were more than 30,000 deaths caused by firearms. However, the US government has done little in gun control. In 2008 and 2010 landmark Supreme Court rulings on two firearms-related cases dramatically diminished the authority of state and local governments to limit gun ownership. Roughly half of the 50 US states have adopted laws allowing gun owners to carry their guns openly in most public places. And many states have ‘stand your ground’ laws that allow people to kill if they come under threat, even, in some cases, if they can escape the threat without violence. According to an article on the website of the Hindu on August 7, 2012, in population-adjusted terms, civilians in some parts of the US are more likely to become the victim of a firearms-related murder than their counterparts in war-torn regions like Iraq or Afghanistan. On January 16, 2013, the US president announced 23 steps on gun control to take immediately without congressional approval. And the president signed three of the measures. But the public opinion generally believes that the gun-control measures will encounter great resistance.

The report appears to have been finished too early to include the failure last week of even moderate gun control measures to clear the U.S. Senate, despite overwhelming popular support and 54-46 support in the Senate itself. (If so, it was also finished before its American counterpart was released.) Still, the baton of criticism was taken up by Chinese netizens. From The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos:

[…] To the Chinese who awoke to the news Thursday, it was a confusing object lesson in what they are so often told is a model political system. There was the technical matter of how a compromise that would have extended background checks for prospective gun buyers could have failed even if a majority of senators vote in favor of it, and about ninety per cent of Americans support it. (The obscure Senate provision involved, cloture, or keyong zhongjie, means about as much to the Chinese as it does to the average American.) One Weibo commentator explained simply, “Today, politics defeated conscience.”

For some, it was so implausible that the Senate could be designed in such a way, that they looked for darker designs to explain it. “American people strongly demand gun control, but then the bill doesn’t pass. Why, you ask? Because it would negatively impact the interests of the one per cent.”

[…] But it would be a mistake to assume that everyone in China is pro gun control. On the contrary, in a nation that has growing political discontent, and zero private gun ownership, one often hears snickering asides these days that a few guns on the street might do some good. And they are not talking about hunting quail. One commentator wrote: “If Chinese people had the right to own and carry weapons, society would probably be more harmonious than it is now. City authorities wouldn’t dare to bully street vendors; on the highways, nobody would dare to rush in and swipe vegetables and fruits that fall off a delivery truck when it rolls on its side; corrupt officials wouldn’t dare to commit crimes in broad daylight.”