Usually, it is the United States that doles out rebukes over human rights abuses to the troublesome country of the day.
However the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager and subsequent crackdown on protesters in the Midwestern state of Missouri has America’s foes crowing about the flaws in the land of the free. Teargas, arrests of journalists, racial tensions and footage of militarily equipped police training their weapons on protesters. These are images more easily associated with one of the nations regularly chided by Washington than the small town of Ferguson, rocked by days of violent protests.
Many of the countries at the stinging end of these criticisms have seized upon the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown and the ensuing clashes to scold the United States for hypocritically lecturing the world on human rights while ignoring the plight of its own people. They also say the shooting underscores how far America has to go to resolve its racial tensions.
In China, which Washington regularly accuses of human rights abuses, the Ferguson story has been getting prominent media coverage.
‘Human rights flaws’
In a commentary entitled “Ferguson riot reveals US racial divide, human rights flaw”, the official news agency Xinhua berated America.
It said the Ferguson shooting “once again demonstrates that even in a country that has for years tried to play the role of an international human rights judge and defender, there is still much room for improvement at home”.
“What the United States needs to do is to concentrate on solving its own problems rather than always pointing fingers at others,” it added.
While China censors reports of local unrest in its domestic media, state broadcaster CCTV has covered the Ferguson riots. On Tuesday, it showed National Guard troops on the streets, with a reporter taking advantage of the greater access available to media in the United States, describing tear gas and other weapons used by police.
On Chinese social media, some echoed the state media line. “This is human rights in democratic countries,” wrote one user of the Twitter-like Sina Weibo service.
But others noted the repression was light compared to that meted out to protesters by the Chinese government. In 1989, hundreds were killed during the armed suppression of protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Iran also latched on to the Ferguson story as evidence of the racial divide in America and what it called double standards on human rights.
“The targeted discrimination against the black in America by the US police and the judicial system and the suppression of protesters ... are clear instances of violations of human rights of people of colour in the US,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted: “Today like previous years, African-Americans are still under pressure, oppressed and subjected to discrimination.”
Even Egypt - where at least 1,400 people, mostly Islamist protesters, have been killed in clashes with security forces - weighed in. Interior ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Lattiff, said the US police were using “excessive” force. “The police are using heavy weapons that are used in war. We didn’t see the protesters even using Molotov cocktails or shotguns. They have legitimate demands.”
Egypt’s foreign ministry said Tuesday it was “closely monitoring” the situation in Ferguson and echoed a UN call for restraint. Russia, which has been under fire for months over its intervention in Ukraine and is a favourite target for allegations of authoritarianism, has also given the Ferguson story wide coverage.
Konstantin Dolgov, the foreign ministry’s representative for human rights, said the US should take care of its own problems before interfering in the affairs of other nations. He said the events in Ferguson “are clear evidence of the high degree of tensions in US society, which remains split along racial lines”.
It was a view echoed by rights group Amnesty International, which for the first time has deployed observers within the United States.
The “US can’t tell other countries to improve their records on policing and peaceful assembly if it won’t clean up its own human rights record,” the group wrote on Twitter. The irony of the situation was not lost on the Internet.
One website www.vox.com published a satirical take on how American media would cover the story if it were happening anywhere else in the world, referring to “a remote Missouri village that has been a hotbed of sectarian tension”.
Dramatic footage from the protests sweeping social media prompted reactions from activists in more troubled parts of the world.
Mariam Barghouti, a student from Ramallah in the West Bank, tweeted some advice to the Americans: “Keep calm when you’re teargassed, the pain will pass, don’t rub your eyes!”–AFP