"Human rights" or Justice?- Arundhati Roy
Source News for Social Justice Action
Date 04/11/10/00:02

Published on Wednesday, November 3, 2004 by the
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
What We Call Peace is Little Better Than Capitulation To a Corporate Coup
by Arundhati Roy

This is an edited extract from the 2004 Sydney Peace Prize lecture
delivered by Arundhati Roy at the Seymour Center last night.

Sometimes there's truth in old cliches. There can be no real peace without
justice. And without resistance there will be no justice. Today, it is not
merely justice itself, but the idea of justice that is under attack.

The assault on vulnerable, fragile sections of society is so complete, so
cruel and so clever that its sheer audacity has eroded our definition of
justice. It has forced us to lower our sights, and curtail our
expectations. Even among the well-intentioned, the magnificent concept of
justice is gradually being substituted with the reduced, far more fragile
discourse of "human rights".

This is an alarming shift. The difference is that notions of equality, of
parity, have been pried loose and eased out of the equation. It's a process
of attrition. Almost unconsciously, we begin to think of justice for the
rich and human rights for the poor. Justice for the corporate world, human
rights for its victims. Justice for Americans, human rights for Afghans and
Iraqis. Justice for the Indian upper castes, human rights for Dalits and
Adivasis (if that.) Justice for white Australians, human rights for
Aborigines and immigrants (most times, not even that.)

It is becoming more than clear that violating human rights is an inherent
and necessary part of the process of implementing a coercive and unjust
political and economic structure on the world. Increasingly, human rights
violations are being portrayed as the unfortunate, almost accidental,
fallout of an otherwise acceptable political and economic system. As though
they are a small problem that can be mopped up with a little extra
attention from some non-government organisation.

This is why in areas of heightened conflict - in Kashmir and in Iraq for
example - human rights professionals are regarded with a degree of
suspicion. Many resistance movements in poor countries which are fighting
huge injustice and questioning the underlying principles of what
constitutes "liberation" and "development" view human rights non-government
organisations as modern-day missionaries who have come to take the ugly
edge off imperialism - to defuse political anger and to maintain the status

It has been only a few weeks since Australia re-elected John Howard, who,
among other things, led the nation to participate in the illegal invasion
and occupation of Iraq.

That invasion will surely go down in history as one of the most cowardly
wars ever. It was a war in which a band of rich nations, armed with enough
nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over, rounded on a poor
nation, falsely accused it of having nuclear weapons, used the United
Nations to force it to disarm, then invaded it, occupied it and are now in
the process of selling it.

I speak of Iraq, not because everybody is talking about it, but because it
is a sign of things to come. Iraq marks the beginning of a new cycle. It
offers us an opportunity to watch the corporate-military cabal that has
come to be known as "empire" at work. In the new Iraq, the gloves are off.

As the battle to control the world's resources intensifies, economic
colonialism through formal military aggression is staging a comeback. Iraq
is the logical culmination of the process of corporate globalisation in
which neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism have fused. If we can find it in
ourselves to peep behind the curtain of blood, we would glimpse the
pitiless transactions taking place backstage.

Invaded and occupied Iraq has been made to pay out $US200 million ($270
million) in "reparations" for lost profits to corporations such as
Halliburton, Shell, Mobil, Nestle, Pepsi, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Toys R
Us. That's apart from its $US125 billion sovereign debt forcing it to turn
to the IMF, waiting in the wings like the angel of death, with its
structural adjustment program. (Though in Iraq there don't seem to be many
structures left to adjust.)

So what does peace mean in this savage, corporatised, militarised world?
What does peace mean to people in occupied Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Tibet
and Chechnya? Or to the Aboriginal people of Australia? Or the Kurds in
Turkey? Or the Dalits and Adivasis of India? What does peace mean to
non-Muslims in Islamic countries, or to women in Iran, Saudi Arabia and
Afghanistan? What does it mean to the millions who are being uprooted from
their lands by dams and development projects? What does peace mean to the
poor who are being actively robbed of their resources? For them, peace is war.

We know very well who benefits from war in the age of empire. But we must
also ask ourselves honestly who benefits from peace in the age of empire?
War mongering is criminal. But talking of peace without talking of justice
could easily become advocacy for a kind of capitulation. And talking of
justice without unmasking the institutions and the systems that perpetrate
injustice is beyond hypocritical.

It's easy to blame the poor for being poor. It's easy to believe that the
world is being caught up in an escalating spiral of terrorism and war.
That's what allows George Bush to say, "You're either with us or with the
terrorists." But that's a spurious choice. Terrorism is only the
privatisation of war. Terrorists are the free marketeers of war. They
believe that the legitimate use of violence is not the sole prerogative of
the state.

It is mendacious to make moral distinction between the unspeakable
brutality of terrorism and the indiscriminate carnage of war and
occupation. Both kinds of violence are unacceptable. We cannot support one
and condemn the other.

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