Unfortunately (and we hope coincidentally) the just announced withdrawal of the US from the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) looks suspiciously like an attempt to avoid scrutiny for America’s own mounting list of human rights embarrassments. The self-perception of citizens of the US that America is still widely admired for its moral leadership is not born out by the recent international polls. Certainly by most of the common measures, for the last few years, the US has slipped in its reputation on most issues of human rights.
Yes, most observers would agree that some of the UN members of the UNHRC have regimes which have bad human rights records. However, for many of these, some progress has been made. International agreements have modified some of the worst abuses and unwelcome publicity via constant scrutiny courtesy of the UNHRC is precisely why it is important that the key offenders be answerable as members of the Commission.
Because it is outside the day-to-day experiences of most Americans, and because wealth insulates the wealthy from having to face up to the consequences of ill treatment of the marginalized, it is very likely the majority have genuinely not noticed what is happening on the growing fringes of their society. While I would agree the US is still much safer for minorities than in some corners of the world, the signs of a change in direction are alarming.
Reflect on the following.
In the US the rate of incarceration is now the highest amongst all first and second-world nations. On any given day the recorded number of those imprisoned is now confirmed to be of the order of 2.3 million people in state and federal prisons and jails, which also works out to be the world’s largest reported incarcerated population. While it is heartening that some States were sufficiently concerned to introduce reforms on incarceration at State and Congressional level, the members of the UN concern is that such reforms are not gaining White House support. Although a bipartisan proposal for sentencing and corrections reform has been gaining momentum in Congress, the Trump administration appears reluctant to give the proposal indication of support.
There is of course the recent embarrassing discovery that the US rendition programme is apparently re-emerging which should also give pause for thought e.g. having US enemies dealt to with by torture and execution in Yemen. When the US then pulls out of the UNHRC on the grounds some of its fellow members have dodgy Human Rights records forgive me if I raise an eyebrow!!
Nearly 50,000 youth aged 17 or younger are held in juvenile prisons or other confinement facilities on any given day in the US, and approximately 5,000 more are incarcerated in adult jails or prisons. Another feature is the sentencing of children to life sentences, although some states are starting to discontinue this practice. Every year, 200,000 people under 18 have contact with the adult criminal system, with many children tried automatically as adults. If it were any other country I suspect many might suggest that this is a characteristic of a police state.
President Trump has targeted refugees and immigrants, calling them criminals and security threats. Treating them as criminals is in direct violation of the widely accepted International agreement to the effect that that refugees and illegal immigrants arriving at the border fleeing situations where security or health are at stake, may not be so-treated. More embarrassing to Mr Trump is that the proportion of crimes committed by immigrants shows on average they are better citizens than those born into permanent citizenship.
Another irony is that by sending weapons to areas of dispute and organizing the bombing of villages and towns (e.g. to war torn Syria or even weapons into crime ridden areas like parts of South America and even parts of Mexico) means a proportion of the civilian populations are forced to flee and include many trying to cross the border from Mexico. When the number one instigator of the weapons and bombs then keeps those same refugees at bay, is it surprising some are beginning to notice? No wonder too the US government found international scrutiny embarrassing when Mr Trump directed separation of children from their parents at the border even keeping some of the children in cages.
In the United Nations The Trump government seemed not to notice that using the excuse of the US not wanting to be included in the same Commission which included those whose had a bad human rights record rings hollow in terms of the recent US record. At home Mr Trump and his supporters had emboldened racist politics by equivocating on white nationalism; and consistently championed anti-Muslim ideas and policies. Furthermore, Mr Trump was witnessed speaking of the value of torture in his Election campaign, and was subsequently seen and heard making admiring noises about the Presidents of North Korea and the Philippines when there was world-wide condemnation of their ruthless treatment of those identified as criminals (eg drug addicts in the Philippines). Is it surprising this made most UN members uneasy.
UN member nations have also noticed the Trump administration has embraced policies that roll back access to reproductive health care for women and championed health insurance changes that deny many more Americans access to affordable health care. What is even more surprising, remembering the civil rights improvements in the US of a few years back, recent law changes in the US have undermined police accountability for abuse. Trump has also expressed disdain for any independent media criticism and has tried to stack the federal courts with those less likely to some of his anti-civil rights actions.
By overtly ignoring the plight of the Palestinians in Israel, by praising dictators and by forcing those like the North American Indians to accept damage to their environment in the interests of mining, Mr Trump signals the need for the rest of the nations of the world to put the US under closer watch.
The individuals most likely to suffer abuse in the United States—including members of racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, and prisoners—are often least able to defend their rights in court or via the political process. Many vulnerable groups endured renewed attacks on their rights during the last year. Other longstanding US laws and practices—particularly related to criminal and juvenile justice, immigration, and national security—continued to violate internationally recognized human rights.
Of course it is true that the US has been frustrated that Israel has been repeatedly blocked in the UN in their attempts to take over more of Palestine, yet the real question remains as to why the US is supporting the powerful predominant Israeli group in Israel and appears so blind to the disproportionate suffering of the Palestinians. Yes, I know that Israel’s point is that they have to keep their population safe, yet to an independent observer it seems that the disproportionate death toll at the end of each year shows who is in most need of security.
I guess I am arguing in the above that based on my own admittedly limited data collection the US does not have the current reputation to justify Mr Trump’s “Holier than thou” justification for pulling the US out of the UNHRC. If I am overlooking important evidence to the contrary I am hoping one of my readers will use the comment box below to show me where my argument has gone astray.