The USA and Human Rights

  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Wednesday, August 21, 2002
  • The leaders of the United States of America are proud to present the picture of being the foremost bearers of human rights.

    • Yet, they have often been heavily criticized for advancing their own interests and of double standards.
    • They often have not ratified various international human rights related treaties (and where it has, there have been many, many reservations).
    • US diplomats were influential in drawing up the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet the USA has not always put (some of their own) words into action.
  • Amnesty International has long called for the USA to have a greater respect for human rights.
  • One of the things that they campaign on constantly is the death penalty and the innocentwho are sometimes killed as a result. In fact, Amnesty International (where the two previous links are from) has been quite vocal about the death penalty frequently:
  • The USA is engaged in a cruel, brutalizing, unreliable, unnecessary and hugely expensive activity for no measurable gain.

    ... There is no evidence that the US authorities have prevented a single crime with this policy ... They have diverted countless millions of dollars away from more constructive efforts to fight crime. And the macabre absurdity is that it creates more victims - the family members of the condemned - often in the name of victims' rights.

    The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it. The sooner US politicians begin to find the political courage to educate public opinion rather than hide behind it, the better.

    USA: Flouting world trends, violating international standards, Amnesty International, March 1, 2001

    There have been about half a million murders in the USA since 1977. In the same period, 716 men and women have been executed. This is a punishment, these bare statistics suggest, reserved for the “worst of the worst” of murderers in the USA. But how can that be true if, for example, learning disabled prisoners are among the condemned? ... It is time they [U.S. leaders] took it upon themselves to measure US standards of decency against the aspirations of the international community on the death penalty.

    USA: Time to recognize international “standards of decency”, Amnesty International, 5th June, 2001.

    (You can see Amnesty International's USA campaign on-line for additional information.)

    Police brutality in the US has been a known problem. (The previous link is from an article about a 450-page report released by Human Rights Watch that accuses local governments and federal officials of failing to address this issue.) Probably the most well known recent case was the 1991 Rodney King incident in Los Angeles that led to riots in that city.

    The Republican Convention and Democratic Convention for the 2000 elections had been accompanied by large public protests. However, the mainstream media did not report much on the police brutality involved to silence the dissenters. There were many, many mainstream and alternative sites around the world following the 2000 election race (as it was a global issue -- one Ugandan citizen lamented at how he didn't have a right to vote in the U.S. elections, and yet the U.S. influences his country more than his own government!). However, to look at the issues not covered by the mainstream (and an analysis of the issue that are covered!), you can start at the ZNet Convention Convergencesection.

    Health and other social rights were also becoming important issues while the economy was booming in the late 1990s and early 2000s (for some) yet leaving more and more people out. Some 44 million people in the U.S. do not have health insurance, for example. As another example, an Inter Press Service summary of a report titled Economic Apartheid in America points out that “the United States is the only industrialised nation that ‘views health care as a privilege, not a basic human right.’” (Unfortunately the report itself not available on the Internet, but is produced by United for a Fair Economy where you can see many extracts and similar reports.)

    In what is the second most hazardous industry to work in, after mining, agriculture is also the most hazardous for children, in the United States. Human Rights Watch reports how the US fails to protect child workers.

    In Amnesty International's 2001 report, they pointed out that there were many cases oftorture and ill-treatment in prisons and jails, where “[a]buses included beatings and excessive force; sexual misconduct; the misuse of electro-shock weapons and chemical sprays; and the cruel use of mechanical restraints, including holding prisoners for prolonged periods in four-point restraint as punishment. Many reported abuses took place in isolation units or during forced removal of prisoners from cells (‘cell extractions’).” The USA incidentally also has the world's largest prison population of roughly 2 million people, which accounts for approximately a quarter of the world's prison population.

    For 2000, for example, Human Rights Watch also reported that the United States “made little progress in embracing international human rights standards at home.”


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