Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Applying the Human Rights Perspective to the US?

By Lidija Knuth, a research fellow at the Kirwan Institute

It is not news that the majority of US citizens still consider international human rights to be something redundant. The arguments are well known: one is that 'the United Nations treaties are furthering the U.N.'s leftist agenda' and another states that 'it is up to the American people and their government to determine the best course of action to address the various issues based on America's unique history and traditions'.

The reality is that the US, a country that claims to be a role model for most other countries in the world in terms of democracy and civil rights, has failed to ratify many important international human rights treaties. For example, while to date 90 countries have already ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and 193 States of the world are parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Washington still has not ratified these treasties. The US also has not joined any of the major International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions guaranteeing core labor rights to organize and engage in collective bargaining. This exceptionalism is also manifested in the reservations the US attached to those treaties it has joined. The US ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) rejected that treaty's inclusion of effect as well as intent in determining whether laws and practices are discriminatory.

The latest example of the US government's approach towards international human rights mechanisms is its reaction towards the concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). CERD is an international 18 member Expert Committee that issued its latest observations in February of this year concerning US laws, policies and programs, and their progress in the elimination of racial discrimination. The Committee drew its conclusions after having heard from the US government and representatives of the US Human Rights Network, and after having reviewed the US state report and so called shadow reports submitted by NGOs. Although the US delegation approached its task diplomatically, it pointedly disagreed with the CERD Committee on key issues, suggesting at various points that the disparities observed by the Committee were merely the result of poverty, or related to personal behaviours, and that disparities in criminal justice outcomes are based on differential rates of commission of crimes.

Instead of taking the CERD observations seriously, (such as urging the US government “to intensify its efforts aimed at reducing the phenomenon of residential segregation based on racial, ethnic and national origin, as well as its negative consequences for the affected individuals and groups”), think tanks—whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies—still argue that these observations “address issues and allegations regarding race in the United States very little”.
Unfortunately the majority of the US public takes such arguments (articulated through the mainstream media and proclaimed by various think tanks) seriously instead of holding its government accountable and claiming that it adhere to its human rights obligations which correlatively constitute their human rights.

1 comment:

  1. What is OSU doing to help implement CERD? I'd be interested in a response to the comments here:
    and here: