New Activist Network Slams Growing Abuses Under Bush
by Jim Lobe
U.S. civil liberties and social justice groups marked International
Human Rights Day Wednesday by launching a new "US
Human Rights Network" dedicated to raising awareness about
international human rights standards and focusing attention on the
US failure to enforce them.
than 50 groups, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) to the New York-based Center for Economic and Social Rights
(CESR), said they had agreed to join forces to address what they
said was "the alarming rate of human rights violations in the
US" particularly as it pursues its "war on terrorism."
called for US citizens to speak out against these abuses, as well
as to fight "US exceptionalism" the view pushed strongly
by the administration of President George W. Bush, that the United
States should not be constrained by international law or human rights
standards, especially relating to economic and social rights.
demonstrations that we are currently seeing against the U.S. around
the world are a reaction to the perception that the US and
particularly the Bush administration thinks that it is above
international law laws the rest of the world are required
to abide by," said Ajamu Baraka, who works for Amnesty International
USA's (AIUSA) Atlanta office and is part of the network's secretariat.
rights of ordinary Americans and others residing in the US are being
trampled on a daily basis in violation of a host of international
laws and standards," said Cathy Albisa, a secretariat member
who is based at CESR.
include the right to economic security and a decent standard of
living, the right of children convicted of crimes not to be executed,
the right to a fair trial, the right to seek asylum, and the right
to be free from torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, among any
others," she added, noting that the US has the developed world's
highest child poverty rate and that 20 percent of adults are functionally
network, which has been several years in the making, marks its birth
from a meeting last year at Howard University in Washington, DC
on the subject of "Ending Exceptionalism: Strengthening Human
Rights in the United States."
of the network's founding organizations which include advocacy
groups for immigrants, ethnic minorities, welfare recipients, the
disabled, prison rights, among others took part in the conference,
organizing themselves into specific caucuses regarding such issues
as the death penalty, discrimination and sovereignty.
the best-known groups are the ACLU, the American Friends Service
Committee, AIUSA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights
Watch, the Indian Law Resource Center, the Kensington Welfare Rights
Union, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and
the National Association for the Advanced of Colored People Defense
network is to be guided by six "core principles" including
acceptance that all rights enumerated in the U.N.'s Universal Declaration
of Human Rights are interdependent and universal; that they include
economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights, as well civil and political
rights that are generally given more recognition in the U.S.; and
that rights are most effectively protected through building social
movements whose leadership should be accountable to those who are
most directly affected by their work.
principles challenge the work of a number of major U.S.-based human
rights groups, many of which have historically been dominated by
professional elites and have generally ignored ESC rights, in part
because of their failure to accept the Universal Declaration and
international human rights law as a sufficient juridical basis for
their work. They have tended instead to rely on the rights provided
under the US Constitution.
recent years, however, US courts even the Supreme Court
have increasingly cited international human rights standards in
their decisions regarding, for example, the death penalty for juveniles
and the mentally retarded, women's rights, and the accountability
of US companies for wrongful conduct overseas.
of the network groups have been pushing courts in this direction.
"The ACLU decided several years ago to integrate more international
principles in our work," said Gregory Nojeim, a staff attorney
who represents the ACLU in the network.
lot of groups that have traditionally focused on political and civil
rights have expanded their mandates," said Albisa, who cited
both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, which has produced a number
of reports on cases where civil and political rights have intersected
with ESR rights, such as the impact of practices by multinational
corporations on local communities.
a growing recognition that you cannot separate economic rights from
political and civil liberties," she added, noting that groups
that have tried to use international law to broaden the panoply
of rights recognized in the US have until now been fragmented.
are pulling together in a way that can build movements," she
said. The network's launch is the first step.
the inclusion of ESC rights into the broader human rights pantheon
and the use of international human rights law by US courts are anathema
to the Bush administration and key policy-makers, about two dozen
of whom are members of the Federalist Society for Law and Public
Policy, a legal association whose recent national convention here
featured half a dozen major presentations on the dangers allegedly
posed to US national sovereignty by international human rights standards
that have not been ratified by the US government.
others, the Society was addressed by White House Chief of Staff
Andrew Card, Attorney General John Ashcroft, U.N. Ambassador John
Negroponte, and the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and
International Security John Bolton, who argued that the International
Criminal Court (ICC) represented a particularly grave threat to
US sovereignty and that Washington obtained all the legitimacy it
needed in invading Iraq by following its own Constitutional processes
rather than deferring to the UN Security Council.
kind of "exceptionalism" is precisely what the network
is trying to organize against, however.
the US indulges an increasingly unilateralist bent in both domestic
and foreign policy, the cost to rights at home and abroad is growing,"
said Baraka, who noted the rise in racial profiling, the summary
detention and deportation of Muslim immigrants after Sept. 11, 2001,
and the indefinite detention as "illegal combatants" at
the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of hundreds of foreigners
seized in Afghanistan and elsewhere as examples.
international human rights framework, including ESC rights, he said,
remains underutilized in the US "due in large part to a deliberate,
long-standing effort by the US government to deny human rights laws
and standards when it applies to situations internal to the US and
to US actions around the world."
exceptionalist policy has been most vividly on display in the administration's
refusal to request ratification of the Convention on the Elimination
of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); its renunciation
of the ICC treaty; its withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile
treaty; its walkout at the World Conference Against Racism; and
its failure to adhere to the Geneva Conventions protecting prisoners
of war, according to the network.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2003 Inter Press Service