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[Repost] The United States Failures in Human Rights Implementation
This is a repost, but human rights are always relevant
I have been travelling over the past week so I did not get time to finish a new article. The good news is I have some good content from the last two years that is still relevant. This post is from December of 2021, but still holds water today. I hope you enjoy it:
The pandemic has spawned an outbreak of existential angst among many of Earths citizens. People are questioning the quality of their lives, their role in society, and what they expect from a government they empower. The questions that play off each other in this scenario are: What are the inalienable rights one has upon existing? Who is in charge of guaranteeing those rights? I believe we have the unique ability as sentient beings to decide where our societal bottom line lies, so why not guarantee more for people?
To better understand the concept of what a "human right" really is, I will explore the concept through the eyes of the United Nations, the international organization created after WW2 with the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt. The standards that the UN has set reveals the shortcomings of the United States. Lastly, I will speak of the philosophical frame of mind that makes any non-humanitarian action seem silly in the grand scheme of our existence.
The United Nations defines human rights as the following:
Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination (2021).
Obviously, the UN is unable to guarantee these rights to all people as we can use yesterdays news as an example of human's rights being denied somewhere in the world. People are still enslaved, starving, homeless, and denied of basic necessities every day in first and third-world countries alike. We know that evil will likely always show itself in one form or another but there are many safeguards we can put in place to stop them. The UN has named nine core international human rights which they use to judge a nations humans rights credibility, each with their own committee (2021). Those nine committees are as follows:
Human Rights Committee
Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Committee against Torture
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Committee on Enforced Disappearances
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Committee on the Rights of the Child
Committee on Migrant Workers
Each committee has their own obvious duties to oversee violations by member states according to their respective department. According to the UN (2021):
All States have ratified at least 1 of the 9 core human rights treaties, as well as 1 of the 9 optional protocols. 80% of States have ratified 4 or more. This means that States have obligations and duties under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.
Outside of the 9 core human rights treaties, there are 9 "optional protocols" that are recognized by the UN to make up a total of 18 treaties nations can ratify. As you can see on the map below (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commission, 2021), the United States has ratified a measly 5 human rights, nearly the worst in the world.
I urge you to take some time to go through the map yourself to realize how behind the US is. For context, here is a non-exhaustive list of countries with more human rights ratified through the UN:
Iraq - 10
Iran - 6
Russia - 11
China - 8
Mexico - 16
Saudi Arabia - 8
Chile - 17
India - 8
Now, this is not to say that Iraq offers a higher quality of life than the US; this just means that the US has not taken these treaties seriously. There are factors such as economic development, infrastructure, and cultural norms that play into the quality of ones life in any given country. Still, the embarrassing fact is that the US has failed to offer its citizens a legitimate stance on pro-human rights issues. Not only is this worrisome as a US citizen, it decreases our credibility on the world stage.
Apart from the ratified human rights, the UN also recognizes the treaties that have been signed but not ratified. This means the country is considering ratifying them but hasn't yet.
The 5 treaties that the US has ratified are as follows:
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
Treaties that the US has signed but not ratified are:
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Treaties that the US has not ratified or signed:
Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty
Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families
International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
As the reigning global power, the United States has failed to set an example. Many of the issues that the US has failed to sign or ratify are partisan in American politics such as the abolition of the death penalty and the protection of the rights of migrant workers.
US Human Rights Failures in 2021
On December 15th, 2021, the US passed their annual defense spending budget which the Human Rights Watch (2021) notes has failed to address key human rights priorities. Examples of the shortcomings include the ignoring of the "egregious human rights violations" from the Egyptian Government on its citizens. Of course, one could argue that the issues of another nation are theirs alone, but the United States has a habit of only being involved when there is money on the line (the war on terror).
Furthermore, the failure to pass the Build Back Better bill damages the reputation of the US as long-needed infrastructure issues stay unresolved. The following chart illustrates the impact the bill would have had on human rights in America (Human Right Watch, 2021). International Human Rights Standard Build Back Better Act Children’s right to an adequate standard of living and to education $400 billion for free universal pre-school $200 billion for child tax credits $100 billion for childcare expansion Right to a healthy environment $555 billion to fight climate change Right to adequate housing $150 billion for affordable housing Right to the highest attainable standard of health $165 billion on healthcare spending Expanded scope and scale of subsidies for health insurance plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace Authorization for Medicare to negotiate the prices it pays for certain prescription drugs Rights of older people and people with disabilities $150 billion for improved access to home- and community-based services (HCBS) Rights to water and sanitation $225 million for low-income household water assistance Workers’ rights to safe working conditions, living wages, and freedom of association Increased penalties for minimum wage and workplace safety violations, as well as violations of workers’ rights to organize and join unions. Measures to improve wages and working conditions for HCBS direct care workers Right to paid leave $200 billion for four weeks of paid leave
Where Did We Go Wrong?
How has the US failed to address so many of these issues all while boasting itself as the international standard on quality of life and economic prosperity? The short answer is political disfunction. Not a single Republican Senator voted for the bill that would have undoubtedly helped the individuals that voted them in.
The long answer is an ignorance to the difference between the things that do and don't matter.
We often get caught up in the hustle of modern life and forget to remember that people are suffering. Our individual problems become small when measured against the undoubtable fact that humanity will not last forever. I know I'm getting a little nihilistic on you but stay with me, we're almost done.
Sure, Elon Musk may find a way for us to colonize Mars... Maybe some future generation will successfully take humanity to a habitable location outside of our solar system, but those feats will not outlast the impending doom that is the expansion of the universe. As said in Wonders of the Universe (2012),
“The arrow of time has created a bright window in the Universe’s adolescence during which life is possible, but it’s a window that won’t stay open for long. As a fraction of the lifespan of the Universe, as measured from it’s beginning to the evaporation of the last black hole, life as we know it is only possible for one-thousandth of a billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth, of a per cent.”
Instead of getting into a long philosophical monologue on existentialism, I will leave you with this: attempting to guarantee more human rights to everyone on earth will never be regretted. In the end, the only thing that will matter is how we treated each other while we existed. Write your Senators and tell them to stop messing around. We want human rights now!