ALTHOUGH Asia has been the lead continent for all except three centuries of recorded human history, disunity within its peoples and a dysfunctional social and governance structure ensured that almost all the continent got ruled by European states from the 18th century onwards. Although such dominance has disappeared from most parts of Asia—with the exception of locations such as Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been taken away from rightful owner Mauritius—the after-effects of colonialism still persist in the Asian mindset. This manifests itself in believing that the continent is far behind Europe in every respect.
Although it is a fact that Europe is—at present—far more advanced than Asia, accounting for much more technological discoveries as well as a better average lifestyle, it is not true that human rights are better protected in Europe than that in Asia. An honest examination of the overall situation would show that human rights are far better protected in Asia than that in Europe, at least so far as the most vulnerable sections of society are concerned, such as ethnic minorities and those residents without citizenship papers.
Take the case of health care. In a country where European culture is pre-dominant, the US, any individual without health insurance would face a horrible situation. In particular, those who are visitors to the US, especially from the poorer countries, would be refused access to health care facilities unless they were at the point of death or severe trauma. Even in such situations, they would be sent out of the medical facilities as soon as they are able to sit on a wheelchair and leave, which is usually much before they are fully recovered. As for the European countries, in almost all of them, health care for the underprivileged of other countries is of a standard far lower than that given to natives. What about the human rights of those who fall ill in Europe and the US? Why is the fundamental right to health being ignored by countries that claim to be the world’s only supporters of universal (and I emphasise the word “universal” ) human rights?
Contrast this to, for example, Kuwait. This small Asian country has an excellent health system, which can be fully accessed not only by citizens and residents but by any visitor who comes on a valid visa. Such an individual, if she or he falls ill, can get the best medical treatment available for a cost of just one Kuwaiti dinar. In contrast, such people get only tenth-class medical treatment in most of Europe, the best facilities being reserved for the rich and the second-best for citizens, while in the US, they get no treatment at all. If an underprivileged individual, especially a non-citizen, were to appear at a US hospital with US$ 4, he would be laughed at and thrown out of the door.
Good medical care for the underprivileged is present not only in Kuwait. The generosity of the Arab spirit—in the best traditions of friendly Asia—has ensured that every country in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) provides excellent health care, including to those without money or even insurance. In most parts of Asia, those who are both sick and poor, and who are visitors, get much better attention than that in Europe or the US, where only those people who “belong” are given preference, even while they themselves seek privileged treatment from the rest of the globe. Of course, it must be admitted that public health facilities in India are of low quality, so that those who get admitted to government hospitals have to undergo much additional suffering as a result. This is not a surprise, given the fact that Indian officialdom looks only towards the US and the EU for inspiration.
And what about the fact that hundreds of thousands of the sick are dying each year even in the rich countries because they cannot afford medicines that have been artificially priced high by pharma companies in Europe and the US? These companies gouge not only outsiders but their own populations, justifying the high prices on the ground that the revenues from them are needed for research. The fact is that 78 per cent of the research for critical drugs has been done outside these companies, many by government-funded laboratories. However, so powerful is the pharma cartel that it has got the European Union to commit such actions as blocking low-cost Indian drugs from entering not only home markets but also Africa. As for US companies, they use the court system to protect their monopolies, a control over medicine supply that ensures a crippling cost to health care in the US and Europe. Had these countries the moral courage to resist the lures of their pharma giants, millions of their own citizens would have benefitted from low drug prices. But who cares for the human rights of those who are ill, when huge profits can be made by overcharging?
Again, does anyone bother to compute the immense damage being done to international human rights by the super-rich speculators in the US and Europe? These selfish individuals have caused incalculable misery to hundreds of millions by driving up the prices of oil, foodgrain, metals and much else that are essential for the modern economy. Even after being given more than a trillion dollars by governments that hesitate to spend pennies in feeding the poor in Africa, the big financial institutions in London, New York, Zurich and Frankfurt are once again driving up the prices of commodities by speculation. Yet this open trampling of the human rights of the globe is allowed to take place by local governments.
Indeed, some in these countries even buy up (at a very cheap price) the debt of the poorest countries and then use their court system or their governments to force such countries to pay them huge amounts. And how was this debt created? By loans that went mostly into paying the salaries of the citizens of the very countries making the loans.
In the case of Afghanistan, for example, more than 80 per cent of the “aid” that is going to that country from Europe and the US gets diverted as salaries to citizens of the US and Europe working in Afghanistan, and to the many facilities they need. Each “philanthropist” from the rich countries who are working in
Afghanistan cost in a day what an ordinary Afghan cannot hope to earn in a year, yet none of this is considered a “violation of human rights”.
Another gross violation of universal human rights is the immense subsidy paid to a few farmers from the rich countries in order to prevent competition by the many in the poorer countries. We all know of milk and butter mountains, that are allowed to rot while tens of millions starve elsewhere. What about the US$ 40 billion given as subsidy to a handful of European fishermen, who use the money to drain the oceans of fish? What about the immense stretches of forest land in Brazil, Russia and Indonesia that are being destroyed by companies headquartered in countries that talk every day about universal human rights? Do we not have a right to these forests? And are our human rights not being trampled upon by companies that greedily destroy them? Once again, it is not from Asia that these companies come from, but from the rich world.
This article will end by drawing attention to a law that the US and its partners are forcing India to agree to. Once passed, this shameful law would limit the liability of a foreign supplier of nuclear equipment to India to US$ 100 million, even if a faulty plant design kills tens of thousands of innocents by radioactive leakage. In a similar way, those clamouring about “human rights” see no contradiction in depriving millions of access to fair compensation. Indeed, they often bully local governments to agree to terms that discriminate against their own citizens in favour of foreign interests, all in the name of “free trade”. And yet, especially in the EU, every effort is made to ensure that the market remains closed to the poorer countries. They do not mind spending vast amounts of energy in order to produce items that poorer countries could give them at much lower cost. At the same time, they are happy when several citizens of poorer countries act like donkeys by buying expensive brands that cost several times more than the substantive benefits they give. Indeed, one reason why Japan, for example, is in the present dire economic state is the immense investment made in Europe in the 1980s and afterwards, when investments in Asia would have generated both better products as well as higher profits. Compared to the profits being made in Asia, there are usually only losses in Europe. The Japanese are so obsessed with the US and the EU that even their IT software needs are sought to get sourced from there, rather than from India. Japanese companies are now paying a heavy price for such policies, and some are accepting the need to turn to India if Japan is to continue to prosper.
The world needs a comprehensive definition of “Universal Hunan Rights”. This should include the right to cheap medicines and good health care. The right to be treated with dignity everywhere and to get the same access for citizens as is given to citizens of other countries. This should include the right to be free of the disasters created by speculators and others preying on the poor by raising prices of essentials. This should include protection of forests and control over fishing and other actions that take away the ecological balance. In all these fields, India should lead.