In his most recent column, Jeremi Suri condemns the brazen brutality of the Islamic State, calling for an affirmation that the purpose of our fight against ISIS is to uphold the standards of international law and limits on human brutality. ISIS has beheaded, killed, captured, burned and tortured its victims. It has sparked an international human rights outcry and expanded our conceptions of the limits of human cruelty and operational violence.
Over the last year, Russia has demonstrated “little respect for its human rights obligations,” according to Human Rights Watch, and has left Eastern Ukraine "in tatters." These experiences demand international attention and response. To restrain these abuses, Suri reflects, we, as a world, must uphold our global human rights declarations and charters.
Law is the language of power. Suri emphasizes the power of international consensus on the limits of violence; it creates expectations, routines, respect and, in some cases, deters reprehensible acts of war. However, in order to be of value, international law must be respected.
The United States has been instrumental over the past century in structuring and fortifying a series of international agreements regarding the nexus of human rights and national defense and security. It has encouraged the most influential players on the world stage to disavow practices of war and violence as a result of World War II.
However, on several occasions, the United States has been scrutinized by international courts for violating the conventions of war, selectively applying the Geneva conventions and drafting certain charters only to neglect to ratify them. Perhaps the most popular example of this was the report released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence regarding C.I.A. torture practices that shocked the American conscience. The C.I.A. interrogation program was not adequately overseen and the report even included other countries that served as hosts for the torture practices: Lithuania, Poland and Romania, all members of the European Court of Human Rights. The program degraded accountability prospects for human rights in other countries. The United States is the global leader in human rights preservation, and when it falters on its international humanitarian principles and policies, its security and well-being are threatened.
Suri emphasizes that declarations of universal human rights are susceptible to the “prerogative of dominant states.” The nations that are powerful enough to structure and command respect for these declarations have disproportionate power to evade and incorporate them selectively. The United States must recognize that as a position of privilege.
In order to affirm our value in the world of law, we must lead by example. A more concentrated approach to transparency in this administration will reinforce global standards of violence. The atrocities committed by ISIS warrant reprisal, and greater transparency regarding torture and the American preservation of equally applied human rights should complement this. We must uphold our own values and “civility” to set an example.
Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.