Human Rights, War on Drugs, and Sean Penn on Complicity Part 3

Quenby Wilcox Having It All


Unfortunately, the traditions of the American government in suppressing the rights of African American citizens go all the way back to post-WWII and the creation of the major human rights conventions. Hope Lewis exposes the situation in ""New" Human Rights: U.S. Ambivalence Toward the International Economic and Social Rights Framework" (ed. C. Soohoo, Albisa, and Davis).

Who Needs "New" Rights?: The United States and the Outsider Status of Economic and Social Rights

Economic and social rights (including rights to food, adequate housing, public education, the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, fair wages, decent labor conditions, and social security) still occupy a second-class, "outsider" status in official United States domestic and foreign policy. This is no accident. The full recognition and implementation of such rights pose a direct threat. But that threat is not primarily to democracy or "American values" as some believe. Rather, because they demonstrate our system's failure to achieve equality, they threaten the deeply held belief that our country has achieved a truly representative human rights—based society...


Official U.S. engagement with the international human rights framework was soon undermined. American racism, among other factors, resulted in an effective suspension of U.S. engagement with the international human rights framework was soon undermined. American racism, among other factors, resulted in an effective suspension of U.S. formal engagement with internally applicable international human rights treaties for decades. Further, Cold War politics played a key role in the ultimate division of the UN's Covenant on Human Rights into two separate treaties. This period helped entrench fear and distrust about the domestic application of human rights which surfaces in some circles even today.


Although the United States signed all of the instruments in the International Bill of Rights in the late 1970s in preparation for ratification, domestic and foreign policy concerns undermined or voided entirely the practical legal and foreign policy concerns undermined or voided entirely the practical legal application of international human rights standards in the United States. With few exceptions, that ideological legacy, including the formal rejection of economic and social rights, continues to impact U.S. government policy into the twenty-first century.

However, racial discrimination by the American government began even as the international treaties were being drafted, as Lewis continues in his analysis,

In December 1951, William Patterson of the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), a radical civil rights organization, and W.E.B. Du Bois submitted an even more incendiary communication to the UN titled "We Charge Genocide." Patterson argued that the violations occurring against African Americans met the definition in the recently adopted Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Particularly embarrassing for a Truman administration facing elections in 1952, the communication highlighted specific cases of racial brutality, segregation, and discrimination already being discussed in the press. Foreign delegates began to ask members of the U.S. delegation about domestic conditions facing blacks and other minorities. The Convention defines "genocide" broadly to mean "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious groups, as such" including killing or committing other forms of physical or mental violence against the group. In a phrase that is most telling for the socioeconomic rights violations experienced by blacks, genocidal acts were also defined to include "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part...


...U.S. critiques of Soviet programs, political and religious persecution, and travel restrictions were valid subjects of human rights condemnation. Nevertheless, Roosevelt's defense of the United States masked the legally and culturally enforced apartheid under which many civil, political, economic, and social rights were denied to African Americans and other groups. Even those protective laws on the books were only haphazardly enforced to protect African Americans in many jurisdictions.


The racial atmosphere and conditions in the United States also played a considerable role in Congressional opposition to U.S. application of the international human rights regime...


Dividing the Covenant on Human Rights


Less explicitly stated, of course, was the perceived threat that the legal recognition of economic and social rights in U.S. law might lead to fundamental changes in the socioeconomic order. Such rights, after all, might lead to the redistribution of wealth from small powerful elites to millions of poor or subordinated Americans. The implications seemed revolutionary.


By contrast, the Soviet Union feared the implications of a strong civil and political rights regime providing for freedom of political thought and dissent, freedom of the press, freedom of movement, and the rights of asylum-seekers. They emphasized that their political and economic system provided the majority of their people with access to free public education, health care, housing, and collective agricultural and distributional system for food security... Between 1949 and 1951, the Commission on Human Rights worked to produce a single legally binding Covenant on Human Rights. But given growing pressure from the United States and other Western democracies, the Commission finally prevailed upon the General Assembly to authorize the creation of two separate treaties...


...some advocates of bifurcation hoped that the best way to get around the Cold War stalemate was to create separate instruments. One would provide largely for civil and political rights and another would address economic, social, and cultural rights. That way, each state could choose for itself which document was most consistent with its political and economic views and traditions. The goal was to achieve as widespread ratification as possible for at least one of the legally binding human rights treaties..


As seen in the text above, racism has always had a profound negative effect, not only on American domestic policy, but also its foreign policy. Another commonality between American domestic and foreign policy is that it has been dominated by imperialistic tendencies since post-WWII, and social conservatism since the early '80s. And, without the paradigm shift that Mr. Penn calls for in the closing of his article El Chapo Speaks, the American government will continue to be complicit to rampant human rights violations within its borders―not actors like Penn and del Castillo who have the courage to speak-up and speak-out!