Raising human rights stuff has a time and a place and The Boss is right to put trade matters first

It's big advantage is in reducing the incidence of hitting the wrong target that you get from those bloody drones...

And it seriously reduces the incidence of hitting the wrong target that you get from those bloody drones…

The Boss has his priorities right,

He has defended his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia and said a free trade agreement with the Kingdom will allow the two parties to talk about a ‘range of issues’ including human rights abuses.

He’s the first Prime Minister to visit Saudi Arabia but there are some sad-sack grouchers in this country who reckon he shouldn’t go because of the country’s human rights abuses, including beheadings.

It so happens Alf does not regard a beheading as a human rights abuse. It’s simply a means of execution and there are some bastards who thoroughly deserve be dispatched from the land of the living.

Key popped up on the telly this morning to set out his thinking:

Mr Key agreed that Saudi Arabia was doing things New Zealand disagreed with, but that it shouldn’t prevent trade between the two countries.

“I utterly reject them and don’t believe they should do that,” he told Q+A’s Corin Dann. “But they are taking it against their own citizens. They’re not looking to basically get to the point where they murder New Zealanders in their own country or in parts of the region that they travel to simply because we disagree with their perspective on the world.”

My Key pointed out here were many countries that New Zealand had disagreements with. “We do trade with them, and we do travel and go and see them. The question is, over time, can you make changes? I think if we get a free trade agreement, for instance, with Saudi Arabia, we have got a much stronger relationship from which we can talk about a range of issues.”

He is absolutely right, of course.

If we start getting fussy about a country’s human rights record, where will it finish up?

Few countries can boast a good record in the human rights department.

The failures include the USA, a country led by The Boss’s golfing buddy, Barack Obama.

A report on the US’s human rights record found lots of faults, including the indefinite detention without charge or trial of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Last year, apparently, this entered its twelfth year, with 162 detainees remaining at the facility. Eighty-two of them have been cleared for transfer to home or third countries by an inter-agency task force since 2009.

Though President Barack Obama renewed his pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo in May, at time of writing his administration had only transferred eight detainees from the facility since 2011. Two of them were repatriated to Algeria in August, and two more were repatriated to Algeria in December.

Early in 2013, several detainees at Guantanamo began a hunger strike; at its peak, 106 reportedly participated in some fashion, with 45 being tube-fed twice a day. Medical and human rights groups wrote letters of protest noting that force-feeding of competent prisoners was a violation of medical ethics and human rights norms.

The administration continued to use fundamentally flawed military commissions at Guantanamo to prosecute detainees. Pre-trial hearings moved slowly in the only two active commission cases: one against five men accused of plotting the September 11, 2001, attacks and another against a man accused of plotting the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000. The commission’s inability to establish rules protecting attorney-client access and communications, among other things, hampered progression of the cases. The prosecution has announced it intends to bring charges against only seven other Guantanamo detainees.

Long after the process was set to begin, the administration began reviewing the cases of Guantanamo detainees not slated for release or facing active charges, an important step towards closing the facility. But guidelines for the reviews fail to safeguard detainees’ basic rights—including access to classified information where such information provides the basis for their detention, the right to be present throughout proceedings, and meaningful access to counsel.

And then there’s this:

In May, President Obama announced a policy for targeted killings abroad requiring that the target be a continuing, imminent threat to US persons and that there should be near certainty that no civilians would be harmed in the strike. President Obama said the US government preference is to detain rather than kill. The full policy remains classified and no information on compliance has been provided. The administration has also not provided the full legal basis for its targeted killings under US and international law.

And so on…

Fundamentally, this shows the US of A is not too strong on all that pap about people being entitled to a fair trial, although Alf is bound to acknowledge he isn’t too fussed, either, about people getting a fair trial, especially if they don’t deserve one.

The same considerations  about fair trials, of course, creep into criticisms of Obama’s use of drones.

People are apt to get excited about the numbers of innocent civilians who get wiped out by drones.

They conveniently forget that dropping bombs from a great height is much more indiscriminate and drones are a very civilized way of minimising the collateral damage.

Even so, there are do-gooders out there who try to do head counts of the numbers of innocent folks wiped out by drones – or murdered, they would argue.

The goods news is that the murder rate (if that’s what it is) is dropping.

A report a year or so ago said:

Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since the first attack that injured Qureshi – eight times as many as were launched in the entire Bush presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, at least 273 of them reportedly civilians.

Although drone strikes under Obama’s presidency have killed nearly six times as many people as were killed under Bush, the casualty rate – the number of people killed on average in each strike – has dropped from eight to six under Obama. The civilian casualty rate has fallen too. Strikes during the Bush years killed nearly more than three civilians in each strike on average. This has halved under Obama (1.43 civilians per strike on average). In fact reported civilian casualties in Pakistan have fallen sharply since 2010, with no confirmed reports of civilian casualties in 2013.

The decline in civilian casualties could be because of reported improvements in drone and missile technology, rising tensions between Pakistan and the US over the drone campaign, and greater scrutiny of the covert drone campaign both at home and abroad.

Mind you, Alf admits he would be a tad pissed off if Obama launched a drone strike on the Labour’s  Party’s Eketahuna North branch headquarters down the road from here for no other reasons than he has taken a snitch against lefties, and the drone was not as accurate as it should be and hit the Eketahuna Club.

He would be much more pissed off if he happened to be in the club when this happened, especially if he had just paid for a drink but hadn’t got it to his lips yet.

But this is to digress.

The point is that The Boss is right to put trade first and human rights second, especially in a week when human rights issues have been raised by an innocent bit of pulling of pony tails.

No-one should reasonably expect a mere PM to take up this sort of thing with a fully fledged monarch when he gets to Saudi Arabia, or anywhere else run by a king.

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