by The Opportunity Agenda, Thu Jun 19, 2008 at 09:41:26 AM EDT
Yesterday was the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a ground-breaking document initiated and championed by the United States and Eleanor Roosevelt. Frank Knaack of the ACLU Human Rights Program writes about the significance of the Universal Declaration in the United States and where we are today in fulfilling the promise of "the foundation of the modern human rights system":
The UDHR laid the foundation for a system of rights which are universal, indivisible, and interdependent. The UDHR does not differentiate between civil and political rights on one side and economic, social, and cultural rights on the other. It realizes that in order to properly enjoy one set of rights, you must also be able to enjoy the other. As is often noted, one cannot properly exercise their right to vote, think, or live if they have no food, housing, or basic health services. It is from these principles that the modern human rights treaty system (international human rights law) was born.
While much of the focus on the human rights record of the U.S. government is in the context of foreign policy and the so called "war on terror," including the rendition, torture, and indefinite detention of foreign nationals, and vis-à-vis its high rhetoric on spreading freedom and democracy throughout the globe, it is of equal importance to look at the state of human rights at home. From the government's inadequate response in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita; to pervasive discrimination against racial minorities in the areas of education, housing, and criminal justice, including death penalty; to imposing life sentences without the possibility of parole on juveniles; to abhorrent conditions in immigration detention facilities, it is clear that the U.S. government has failed to abide by its international obligations.
While the struggle for universal human rights is far from over, there has been great improvement in the fight to bring human rights home. More and more non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individual activists in the U.S. are utilizing the human rights framework in the domestic advocacy and litigation. At the latest session of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (the treaty body that monitors state compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination), there were more than 120 representatives from U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Geneva, Switzerland, who briefed the Committee members and provided additional information to counter the misrepresentations and omissions of the official U.S. government report on the state of racial discrimination in the U.S. This information, in turn, led the Committee to conclude that the U.S. should make sweeping reforms to policies affecting racial and ethnic minorities, women, indigenous people, and immigrants. The Committee's recommendations garnered domestic and international media attention, and were followed by a three week official visit to the U.S. by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Racism. This visit by the Special Rapporteur further opened up opportunities for domestic NGOs to utilize the international human rights framework, as was evidenced by the successful public education and media outreach campaigns conducted by local NGOs throughout the US during this visit. As this shows, human rights advocacy has become an effective tool for social justice advocates in the U.S. to use to press for change and enhance the protection of basic human rights.
The Opportunity Agenda is dedicated to bringing human rights home. We are proud to work with coalitions such as the U.S. Human Rights Network and the Human Right to Health Capacity Building Collaborative to build the national, state, and local will to make human rights a real and effective tool for realizing American opportunity.
U.S. Human Rights Reports and Tools from The Opportunity Agenda:
* Human Rights in the U.S.: Opinion Research with Advocates, Journalists, and the General Public
* Unequal Health Outcomes in the United States: A Report to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
* Policy Brief: Healthcare, Opportunity, and Human Rights at Home