Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Human Politics, Post-UDHR

International support for human rights was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. But the declaration proved only to be a great statement of principles, and too vague to be useful as a legal instrument. In 2004 the only countries that did not violate human rights significantly were the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, and Costa Rica. The 2007 Report on the United States, for example, includes such familiar abuses like the Military Commission Acts (not just 2006), secret and abusive detentions around the world, Guantanamo Prison, unlawful killings by US forces outside of the US, detention of enemy combatants inside the US, torture (various), cruel and inhumane treatment in domestic prisons, prisoners of conscience, and death penalty abuses.

But aside from the UDHR of 1948, we have more documents alleging to say specifically what rights humans have. During the 1960s, two more covenants were developed out in an effort to give the declaration some substance: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In 1976 the United Nations adopted both of these. But they are largely ignored except by the few countries who have made the list. "Non-binding," we say. The United States uses this phrase, in fact, to describe the entire corpus of UN legislation, not just human rights covenants.

That's how our government justifies avoiding UN Resolutions against our invasion of Iraq which would otherwise render the war of aggression illegal. For example, on the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (to which the US is in fact a signatory) doesn't apply to places like Guantanamo because we say the convention "non-binding". And what is the purpose in signing it? Why sign the Munich Agreement in 1938 if you're just going to turn around and invade Poland?

In 2000, President Clinton signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and in 2002 President Bush said the United States does not intend to become a member of the treaty, and that apparently the United States has no legal obligation arising from its signature on December 31st, 2000. So our government can withdraw itself even from treaties that are "legally binding", (although it doesn't use "withdraw" in its official terminology, it says it "nullified" the previous president's signature). The United Nations has not removed the United States from the list of original signatories, however.

Yet if we agree with the treaties and covenants we have signed in the past, and are committed to them, what do we have to fear? Of course, the fear is that human rights abusers like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and war criminals like George W. Bush would most likely be brought to the ICC in the Hague for their conduct in the last seven years. The ICC has said this openly. If the next president were to become a signatory to the Rome Statue, and join the ICC, he or she would now have to repeal acts like American Service-members Protection Act, which besides making our troops "exempt" from ICC negotiations, also prevents Americans from training the militaries of any country that is an ICC signatory, and withdraws US troops from all peacekeeping missions where the ICC has jurisdiction.

This rules out most peacekeeping in Africa, as well as various other missions that are not vital in the "War on Terror". Our nation has been at war for six years in Afghanistan, and four years in Iraq. And we have been a major human rights abuser in Guantanamo since 2002. I hope this sounds like hypocrisy and lack of commitment on the United States' behalf. Please read these links because this information is sadly true, and without organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to point out our abuses, this information would be unknown.

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