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Jiang Zemin and “the Real Axis of Evil”
NEW YORK – It’s been a tough few weeks for former dictators, and you can be sure China’s former leader, Jiang Zemin, has been paying attention.
On December 4th, European media reported that the Nuremberg District Court in Germany issued an arrest warrant for former Argentine President, Jorge Videla, for the alleged torture and killing of thousands during Videla’s rule in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. This past week, former NATO allied commander, Wesley Clark, testified that Slobodan Milosevic had prior knowledge of a massacre in Srebrenica that eventually left over 7,000 dead, thereby strengthening the genocide case against the former Yugoslavian leader. And last weekend, former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was found hiding in a hole, bearded and weary from months on the run.
All the while, a recently published book on how to oust the world’s last remaining dictators by 2025 written by former U.S. Ambassador and 26-year veteran of the U.S. State Department, Mr. Mark Palmer, continues to garner rave reviews by columnists across North America.
A December 16th Wall Street Journal piece called Mr. Palmer’s book, “One of the best but least noticed books among all the tomes addressing the quest for peace in the post-Sept. 11 era.”
The book, “Breaking the Real Axis of Evil,” is a blueprint foreign policy manual on how to rid the world of the last remaining dictators: A collection of 45 leaders Mr. Palmer calls “the world’s 45 least wanted.”
Indeed, the world is a very different place for dictators than it was almost sixty years ago when the United Nations began to adopt landmark treaties to address the horrific crimes that all-too-often are bred in their shadows. The U.N. Convention on Genocide was adopted in 1948 and the U.N. Convention on Torture in 1984, just to name a few.
Since that time, such treaties and the laws they spawned have had some success in bringing to justice those who perpetuate crimes against humanity. Indeed, international rule of law has extended its reach into circles of sovereign power where, until recently, dictators’ domestic power reigned absolutely. Just ask Chile’s Augusto Pinochet or Liberia’s Charles Taylor.
International Law’s Unique Challenge
Yet, as the intolerance for dictators reaches unprecedented heights, the laws and treaties enshrined by the international community to protect against severe human rights violations face perhaps their most unique challenge in the likes of China’s former leader, Jiang Zemin.
In July 1999, Jiang launched a violent campaign against Falun Gong characterized by CNN’s Senior China Analyst, Willy Lam, as a “throw-back to the Cultural Revolution.” For those familiar with modern Chinese history, the comparison conjures up terrifying images of arbitrary imprisonment, wanton beatings and torture, and thousands killed amidst the mayhem.
According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, details of 842 deaths (reports / sources) have been verified, with informed sources putting the true death toll well in the thousands. Hundreds of thousands have been detained, with more than 100,000 being sentenced to forced labor camps, typically without trial, according to the Center.
Topping Amnesty International’s list of human rights “scoundrels,” clearly Jiang’s crimes place him along side Hussein, Milosevic, Pinochet and other “least wanted.” Yet, with so much evidence stacked against him, why does Jiang still present a challenge to international rule of law whose statutes are so clear on these issues? The answer is three-fold.
A Personal Decision Disguised as Government Policy
First, Jiang has made himself a difficult target to pinpoint by thoroughly blurring the lines between his personal will and the policies of the Chinese Government. To this day, many of the world’s population believe the “Falun Gong issue” to be a struggle between the Chinese Government and Falun Gong. This perception is no accident, but the result of carefully calculated steps taken by Jiang to utilize the government apparatus for his own purpose.
Jiang not only formulated the policy of “eradicating” Falun Gong himself, but actually went against the decision of the Premier and the entire Politburo Standing Committee – who were advocating for Falun Gong in 1999 – to enact the persecutory campaign against Falun Gong. (in-depth / special report) Thus, as the nation’s top leader who also headed the military, Jiang commandeered the government apparatus to carry out the persecution, while at the same time creating the impression it was a government-backed initiative from the beginning.
As Mr. Palmer recently told the media during an interview about his new book, “Jiang Zemin individually made this decision … [he] went against many other people in his own politburo who did not want to do this to the Falun Gong, some of whom even practiced the Falun Gong or had relatives who practiced the Falun Gong. So we need to hold him accountable.”
A New Form of Genocide?
Secondly, the full-scale of the crimes that constitute the persecution of Falun Gong are diverse, hard to classify in a single category and difficult to verify in a state that dedicates significant national resources to stem the flow of such information. True, there are over thirty thousand documented cases of arbitrary arrest, torture, killings and other known forms of severe human rights violations against Falun Gong practitioners. But the systematic nature of exactly what is happening in China to Falun Gong practitioners – something more akin to genocide than religious suppression – remains an unclear picture in the mind’s eye of the international community.
Throughout the tumultuous reign of the Communist Party in China, complex, diverse and often violent methods of persecution were developed and refined. These methods aimed to completely isolate a segment of society and extinguish it by “transforming” individuals’ hearts and minds to be in line with the Party, by any means necessary. In this “transformation” process, thousands lose their lives amidst the violent methods employed, but ultimately the goal of such persecution is not simply to kill the targeted group of people outright – the traditional concept of genocide. The goal is to strip them of their beliefs. This eradication of belief attacks the core of what it means to be human.
Consider, for example, what would have happened in World War II if Hitler’s Nazis had – rather than sending 6 million Jewish people to their deaths – instead sought to strip them of their beliefs by sending them to brainwashing centers. At the brainwashing centers, they would be subjected to torture and a barrage of brainwashing techniques that ravaged them to the point where they renounce Judaism, publicly condemn Moses, willingly burn the Torah and cooperate with Nazi officials to help “transform” other Jews, or face being killed in the process if they remain steadfast.
Is this genocide or is it something else we don’t quite have a name for? Regardless, this is the form of persecution that was unleashed upon Falun Gong in 1999, and it is a horrific crime against humanity.
The third reason Jiang may present a challenge to international law is that throughout the campaign against Falun Gong, Jiang has employed the tried-and-true method of exercising “the pen and the sword” in unison. During the 1999 APEC meeting in New Zealand, Jiang met with Bill Clinton. According to the Associated Press, Jiang handed Clinton a book assembled by Chinese propagandists that vilified Falun Gong, and no-doubt asked the then-U.S. President to toe the line. Similar materials demonizing Falun Gong have been delivered to governments and media around the world in an attempt to paint Falun Gong as “dangerous” or a menace to society, claims that human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call, “Unproven,” “Bogus” and part of a “Massive Propaganda Campaign.”
Still, if you repeat a lie enough times, people begin to believe it. Today, information from Jiang’s anti-Falun Gong materials has spread throughout the world. To the casual observer, fact and fiction have become intertwined. Indeed, bits of Jiang’s misinformation can even be found in Western media reports and academic studies.
Clearly, most China-watchers know the regime is spreading lies about Falun Gong, but when done so thoroughly and on such a large scale, the lies still have the effect of encouraging people to turn the other way.
Jiang poses a test for international rule of law because he has hidden himself well behind the Chinese Government, the full scale of his crimes are difficult to classify and uncover, and his worldwide campaign of misinformation about Falun Gong has dimmed the enthusiasm of would-be critics.
Indeed, Jiang is a magician of sorts, and the world remains a bit mesmerized. But this is no magic show. It’s torture. It’s genocide against a traditional, peaceful belief. It’s everything for which we promised ourselves “never again” as the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald were laid bare before our eyes.
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