No citizen of an alleged liberal democracy would ever consider that their nation would be guilty of human rights violations, particularly if they lived in a nation like America that holds itself up as a beacon of human rights. In fact, America claims it is the world’s human rights leader and regularly condemns other nations for their human rights violations. However, America should begin reining in its condemnation and criticism of other nations’ human rights violations until it cleans up its own record of violating the human rights of its own citizens. American human rights’ violations abroad are another matter completely.
For the second time in five years the United Nations Human Rights Commission will conduct an examination of America’s human rights’ record according to several commissions and standards that this nation is a signatory to. The so-called Universal Periodic Review (UPR) regularly looks at all of the 193 U.N. member nations, and if a special report last year is any indication, the United States is in for another round of criticism for violating 25 human rights standards. It is noteworthy that the report last year was not part of the regularly scheduled UPR and by all accounts America has not made any progress in correcting a world of human rights violations against American citizens in the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims the new review will give President Obama a stellar opportunity to take stock of and “shape his human rights legacy,” and that may be true overseas. But since the preponderance of domestic violations can only be addressed by Congress and the courts, it is patently unfair to expect the President to unilaterally “establish humanitarian policies at the federal and state levels” that will accomplish anything; particularly since congressional funding of federal agencies is involved. If there is only one thing Americans have learned over the past six years, it is that Republicans oppose any request by this President unless it hastens privatizing public education or fast-tracks secret corporate-written trade agreements.
Some of the areas the UPR will focus on this year are racially-biased policing, excessive use of force against people of color, expanded migrant family detentions, criminalizing homelessness, ethnic profiling, denying the basic human need of clean water, border killings, and the unlawful and discriminatory practice of surveilling Muslim communities; all activities Republicans and their variant conservative subgroups ardently support.
The report will also look closely, like last year’s report, at what America has done to hold the people responsible for the CIA torture program, war crimes, and unlawful indeterminate detention during the Bush Administration. However, as the President said, even though America has violated its own federal and internationally-agreed laws and treaties, Americans will “look forward, not backward.” Subsequently those human rights violations will never be addressed or punished because apparently it is what America intends to do in the future that really counts towards its human rights record. Besides, if America is incapable of adhering to human rights standards at home, the U.N. cannot expect it to address violations overseas either in the past or the present. If last year’s report was any indication, this country can expect another damning critique for violating the human rights of its own citizens.
Last April the UN Human Rights Committee issued a report lambasting the United States according to its human rights violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which America is a signatory and alleged world leader. That particular report listed no-less than 25 human rights issues where the country fails and many of them were violations against American citizens. In fact, despite four of the violations specifically citing issues related to racism, in the prison system, in law enforcement profiling, and police brutality, the events of the past year demonstrate that the issues have gotten much worse.
Last year’s report condemned the criminal justice system and law enforcement practices and harshly denounced the “racial disparities at all stages in the criminal justice system, sentencing disparities and the overrepresentation of individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities in prisons and jails.” The committee also condemned racial profiling by police and the FBI and NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims, although it did not address discrimination against Muslims across the nation. Something the U.N. report also commented still plagues America with no clear end in sight, or apparent means of stopping it, is the “the inordinately high number of fatal shootings by police and reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers including the deadly use of tasers against African Americans.” The report noted that every 28 hours, a black person is killed by a police officer, security guard, or self-appointed vigilante and said that “the militarization of American police exacerbates this trend.”
Although it is rarely regarded as a “pressing human rights issue,” the U.N. committee expressed extraordinary concern about continuing “reports of American criminalization of people living on the street for everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, or sitting in particular areas.” The report particularly “noted that such criminalization raises concerns of discrimination and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” it says are meant to “deliberately hurt and target homeless people.”
America regards itself as the world leader in human rights and never hesitates to condemn human rights violations of other nations. Last year, and not as part of the regular Universal Periodic Review, the U.N. Human Rights Commission leveled an irregular condemnation against America for cruel and inhumane treatment of its own poor citizens exposing this country as anything but a human rights leader. It also gave special attention to the racism driving inhumane treatment of African Americans at the hands of the criminal justice system and out-of-control law enforcement community. Sadly, nothing has changed despite President Obama’s perpetual calls for what the ACLU claimed was a desperate need to “establish humanitarian policies at the federal and state levels.”
No President can put an end to racial animus, or force Republicans in Congress and state legislatures to stop driving human rights violations by slashing funding for programs to prevent homelessness, poverty, or enact laws putting an end to racially-motivated incarcerations, police shootings, or targeting any non-white, non-Christian demographic. If the report last year was any indication of what this year’s official ‘periodic review’ of America’s adherence to human rights standards, it appears that once again the U.N. Human Rights Commission will deem America to be in gross violation of its own citizen’s human rights; especially if they are poor, homeless, or minorities.