WASHINGTON D.C.: Global attention on the tension and violence in a Midwestern suburb has given the world’s authoritarian governments an opportunity to give the United States a dose of its own medicine on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
A reporter in a routine press briefing on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) at the State Department listed Egypt, Iran, Bahrain, Russia, China and Zimbabwe among countries where officials have commented on the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer.
Unrest in the town over the August 9 police killing of the unarmed 18-year-old has produced daily rioting and harsh crackdowns by authorities— and sardonic commentary from strong-arm world governments.
Police said on Tuesday they had arrested 47 people during a night of protests in Ferguson, even as authorities said that protesters did not fire guns and police refrained from using tear gas to break up the rally.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used his Twitter account to tweak the United States, writing last week with the hash tag Ferguson: “Racial discrimination’s still a dilemma in US. Still people are unsecure for having dark skins. The way police treat them confirms it.”
China’s official Xinhua news agency acknowledged the steps forward in the United States—including Barack Obama’s election as the first black president—in the 50 years since racial desegregation.
“Despite the progress, racial divide still remains a deeply-rooted chronic disease that keeps tearing US society apart, just as manifested by the latest racial riot in Missouri,” a Xinhua commentator wrote.
“The Ferguson incident once again demonstrates that, even if 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,” the commentator added.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf rebutted the charges, saying that the United States puts its record for “confronting our problems, transparently and openly and honestly, up against anyone else’s in the world.”
“When we have issues here, [we]confront them in that way, as you’ve seen over the past few days,” she said.
“We would call on other countries to do the same. And unfortunately, we haven’t always seen that, so we’ll keep calling them to do so,” Harf added.
Those countries have been gleefully returning the favor.
Washington in recent years has sparred hard with Moscow over its support for the Syrian government and role in neighboring Ukraine’s crisis. Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s top human rights official, was blunt on Tuesday, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.
The United States “should take care of large-scale internal problems” including racial divisions, instead of using the “false pretext of protecting democracy and human rights” to meddle in other countries.
UN head also concerned
Even United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took the rare step of commenting on US domestic affairs. He called on authorities “to ensure that the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are protected” and urged “all to exercise restraint and for law enforcement officials to abide by US and international standards in dealing with demonstrations.”
The Russian government-funded RT news network has covered the Ferguson case enthusiastically.
An Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement said Cairo was following events in Ferguson and mostly cited Ban’s comments, “especially what the secretary general mentioned in regard to restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.”
A Human Rights Watch report last week found that Egyptian authorities had likely committed crimes against humanity when more than 800 people died in the storming of a protest camp by security forces.
A writer from the West Bank twittered advice for Ferguson protestors encountering teargas not to touch their eyes and to rinse their faces with milk or cola, not water.