LONDON (Reuters) - Governments scolded by the United States over their human rights records have seized on racial unrest and a police crackdown in the Missouri town of Ferguson to wag their fingers back in disapproval.
Adversaries and uneasy allies from Russia and Iran to China and Egypt have accused the United States of hypocrisy as images of police brandishing lethal weapons and tear-gassing protesters have been shown around the world.
They have also pointed to the problems faced by black Americans.
Many of the countries draw criticism of their own democratic credentials from independent rights group as well as the U.S. government. Nonetheless, activists say the events in Ferguson, where the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman has provoked 11 nights of protests, undermine the United States’ credibility in criticizing others.
“The United States 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,” Amnesty International said in a tweet.
Such a scenario is not new. The United States has for decades been accused of failing to practice what it preaches in much of its global conduct - the abuse of inmates at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq and the detention of prisoners without trial at the Guantanamo Bay camp being two notable examples.
What is different is that the Ferguson unrest is taking place between Americans on home soil. The racial violence is the worst since the 1992 Los Angeles riots over the police beating of Rodney King, while the police tactics have evoked memories of the civil rights battles of the 1960s.
Russia’s reaction recalled the Cold War era, when official Soviet media highlighted the plight of poor U.S. blacks. Ferguson showed that deep problems persisted, Moscow’s human rights commissioner, Konstatin Dolgov, said.
“They call on others countries to guarantee free speech and not to suppress anti-government protests, while the U.S. authorities do not stand on any ceremony at home with those who actively express their discontent with persisting inequalities,” he said.
“It would seem the U.S. authorities would be better served to worry about their own large-scale internal problems ... than to follow past politics of interventions in the affairs of other countries and changing of undesirable regimes under the false pretext of protecting democracy and human rights.”
Iran, at odds with the United States over its nuclear program and its support for anti-Israeli militants, accused the authorities of “targeted discrimination” against blacks.
The police and judiciary’s actions were “flagrant instances of the violation of human rights and the rights of the colored population in the U.S., a country which annually releases numerous reports on the violation of human rights in independent countries and governments,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei linked the unrest to Washington’s support of Israel, sworn foe of Tehran. “Brutal treatment of black people isn’t indeed the only anti-human rights act by U.S. govt; look at US’s green light to Israel’s crimes,” he wrote on Twitter.
China’s official Xinhua news agency also took the line that the United States needed to concentrate on its own problems rather than criticizing others.
“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,” it said.
Human rights issues have clouded Washington’s relationship with Beijing, although economic ties are strong.
Xinhua mentioned the issue of U.S. spying on American citizens and foreign leaders, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“What’s more, Uncle Sam has witnessed numerous shooting sprees on its own land and launched incessant drone attacks on foreign soil, resulting in heavy civilian casualties,” it said.
In Venezuela, long at loggerheads with the United States and scene of violent anti-government protests this year, the Ferguson unrest has been followed closely and featured on state television chat shows. Government comment focused on the racial discrimination issue and what it called the “out of control” violence.
A statement from ALBA, a group of Latin American nations under Venezuela’s auspices, expressed solidarity with African-Americans and called on authorities to investigate abuses.
Egypt, a close ally of Washington, urged U.S. authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with the demonstrations in Ferguson.
Relations were tested last year by the army overthrow of an elected president and the killing of hundreds of protesters, although Washington has recently praised what it calls the democratic transition under former military chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Cairo’s statement, possibly aimed at pleasing domestic opinion, echoed language Washington used to caution Egypt during the crackdown.
Human Rights Watch deputy director for Middle East and North Africa, Nadim Houry, told Reuters in Beirut that questionable behavior by the United States damaged the consensus on what was acceptable.
“When the United States commits abuses, because of its international weight, it does send ripples. The international norm is not respected. The damage done by Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, illegal rendition for international norms was considerable,” he said.
Reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Julia Symmes Cobb in Caracas, Michelle Moghtader in Dubai, Emily Kaiser in Beijing, and Alissa de Carbonnel in Moscow, Writing by Angus MacSwan; editing by David Stamp