Human Rights Should Be a Prerogative at Home
New America Media, News Report, Donal Brown, Jan 22, 2006
Belying the U.S. government’s human rights initiatives calling for China and other countries to improve their human rights records, the U.S. has not shown much leadership in the area of human rights. After World War II, they first refused to ratify or ratified the United Nations human rights treaties and protocols with a list of disclaimers or conditions. The U.S. did ratify some treaties but under the stipulation that no citizen could sue the government under the treaties’ articles.
To protect their prerogative to send seventeen-year-olds to war, the U.S. was only one of two countries – the other was the failed state of Somalia – not to sign the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. And at home, the U.S. has not enjoyed an enviable record in extending rights to such groups as prisoners, transgendered youth, immigrants and blacks, the latter suffering not only from poverty and discrimination but also from polluted neighborhoods.
These were among the assertions made by delegates and speakers at the Women’s Foundation of California’s conference, “Human Rights at Home,” in San Francisco, Jan. 11.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Carol Anderson author of Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, said the opposition to human rights in the U.S. is rooted in the bigotry and racism of slavery. The southern Democrats who controlled Congress after World War II were more interested in protecting Jim Crow laws disenfranchising black people than in creating a progressive new world order protective of human lives and dignity in the wake of the holocaust.
“The southern Democrats didn’t care that World War II had unleashed international disgust with white supremacy,” said Anderson. “They didn’t care that there was an incredible push for human rights. All they saw was the threat. They wanted their power maintained. They controlled 60 percent of the seats in Congress. They flexed their muscles early.”
Anderson said the only way to get the United Nations charter past the southern Democrat Cerberus guarding the portals of discrimination was to write an article saying that the UN would not intervene in any nation’s domestic affairs. Thus no country had to abide by the UN accords establishing economic, cultural, and social rights.
During the Cold War, those opposed to human rights managed to label the aspirations of those calling for these rights as Marxist, and one delegate said she was recently called a communist for her work as a human rights advocate.
Anderson said that while a degree of political and civil rights were secured for blacks during the Civil Rights Movement, in the following years, cultural, social and economic rights were denied. As a result, the vibrant, socially cohesive and prosperous community in which she grew up in Linden, Ohio declined into sad neglect and poverty after the Civil Rights Movement.
Widney Brown of Human Rights Watch said in her speech entitled “Human Rights 101” that even though all people are born free and equal in human rights, in actuality the poor, homeless and those with no
constituencies are not accorded the same rights enjoyed by the privileged.
Said Brown, “For those with drug problems, the rich are sent to Betty Ford, the poor to prison.”
Brown said those involved in the human rights movement must continually challenge the government. “We must never allow government to successfully argue for the marginalization or exception to human rights protections for any group of people,” she said.
One of the groups marginalized are prisoners. Brown told of attending the Human Rights Convention in Geneva with a former prisoner from the United States who had been incarcerated in a federal prison and pimped out by her guards to male inmates. When she protested they beat her and raped her so she suffered permanent spinal damage. The former prisoner appeared on a panel at the convention and embarrassed the U.S. delegation who went to the Human Rights Watch to ask that Brown be sent home. Brown got to stay.
The Louisiana activists threatened to appear at the 2002 UNESCO’s World Conference for Sustainability held in Johannesburg, South Africa with the victims of pollution from Norco at the same time Shell campaigned as protectors of the environment.
Harden said they told Shell, “We will be there to wreck the campaign and bring the voices of the people to wreck your efforts.” Their grassroots approach emphasizing human rights resulted in significant dialogue and concessions by Shell to remedy the problems in Norco and in other communities.
The groups represented at the conference included Amnesty International USA, Planned Parenthood, Sweatshop Watch, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Centro Legal de la Raza, Stop Prison Rape, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Environmental Health Coalition, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Out of the 130 delegates, 118 were women.
Said Maya Thornell–Sandifor of the Women’s Foundation about the imbalance of males and females in the human rights movement, “Women in their role as caregivers and community-organizers tend to be more often confronting human rights injustices and serving in the role of managing the well-being of their children, families and communities.”