U.S. being questioned on human rights
When it comes to human rights, the United States needs to practice what it preaches.
The Obama administration went to Geneva on Nov. 5 to defend its record before the U.N. Human Rights Council. And according to a coalition of leading human rights organizations, the government fell flat.
The United States is a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is reviewing the human rights records of all 192 U.N. member nations, including ours.
On Aug. 20, the U.S. government submitted a report to the council, outlining its human rights record. “We are committed to holding everyone to the same standard, including ourselves,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Not true, says the U.S. Human Rights Network, a coalition of 300 prominent organizations such as Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the NAACP.
“The plan to close Guantanamo hasn’t occurred,” says Ajamu Baraka, executive director of the network. “There is still evidence there are renditions taking place. There are still hundreds of enemy combatants in secret prisons around the world.”
Our prisons at home also leave a lot to be desired. The United States has the world’s largest prison population. And it is the only nation that locks up nonhomicide child offenders for life with no possibility of parole. The majority of these youths are black and Latino. There are 2,500 child offenders serving life sentences, Baraka notes.
One issue that caused problems for the United States in Geneva was its continued use of the death penalty, whereas 139 nations have abolished the practice. According to Amnesty International, more than 1,200 people have been executed in the United States since 1977.
In Geneva, the State Department defended its use of the capital punishment, saying it is used only for the most serious crimes. “International human rights law does not bar it per se,” said State Department legal advisor Harold Hongju Koh.
The State Department also defended Obama’s authorization of unmanned drones to kill targets in Yemen and at Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, arguing dubiously that the practice complies with international law.
“If the U.S. government delegation’s objective was to reclaim the mantle of global human rights leadership, it failed miserably in that effort,” said Baraka, who went to Geneva to observe the U.N. review.
Domestic critics of the United Nations often like to portray it as a haven for countries hostile to Washington. But in Geneva, the United States faced scrutiny from allies such as the Britain, France, Australia and Switzerland.
When even our friends question our human rights record, we’ve got to clean up our act.
David A. Love is a writer based in Philadelphia, and the executive editor of BlackCommentator.com. His blog is davidalove.com. He can be reached at pmproj [at] progressive [dot] org.
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