Human Rights Day 2012: 4 Ways in Which The US Violates Human Rights


Monday marks the 64th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (well worth a read), ratified by the UN General Assembly in 1948. Being a signatory, the United States is subject to the UDHR. And I am proud to say we do exceptionally well in the realm of free speech and expression of opinion. Even when compared with other "progressive Western" democracies, the U.S. keeps freedom of speech completely sacrosanct, and this is one of the things I love most about my country. Therefore, on this Human Rights Day, I will celebrate my intensely protected right to free speech by exploring a few of the ways the U.S. fails to uphold basic human rights.

1. Contempt for the democratic process: Over the past 60 years, the U.S. has engaged in the overt or covert overthrow of dozens of foreign regimes, many of which were democratically elected, if they were perceived to not serve U.S. interests in the short term. Notable examples include the 1973 overthrow of democratically elected Salvador Allende, whose U.S.-supported successor Augusto Pinochet killed or disappeared over 3,000 Chileans during his 16-year tenure, and the 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran. The CIA-lead "Operation Ajax" resulted in 27 years of brutal dictatorial rule under the Shah, ultimately culminating in the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought about one of the most anti-U.S. regimes in the world. In addition to regularly toppling democratic governments, the U.S. actively supports and sustains tyrannies perceived to serve American interests. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where decades of frustration and oppression were recently vented during the Arab Spring, in which every protest was directed towards U.S.-supported dictators, with the exception of Bashar al-Assad.

2. Extrajudicial assassinations (drone strikes): Particularly championed by President Barack Obama, drone strikes have allowed the executive to decide who deserves to live and who deserves to die, without applying any semblance of due process. Most controversially, Obama approved the assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American citizen with alleged ties to Al Qaeda, and his sixteen-year-old son, whose sole crime was being the son of a person with alleged ties to Al Qaeda. This move was so clearly in contravention of the Constitution and UDHR, it still amazes me to this day. Additionally, as the recent Standford/New York University report found, drones constitute nothing short of terrorism of the Pakistani population and will have unknowable long-term consequences.

3. Guantanamo Bay and the selective application of due process: The existence of Guantanamo Bay is another example of the U.S. Government only applying due process when convenient. There is not enough evidence to convict the vast majority of prisoners there, which is why they have not been brought before a court to face their crimes, and why Obama does not know what to do with them, other than continue to abuse their basic human rights. Guantanamo also represents the recent spike in torture U.S. officials have carried out. The use of water boarding has been well documented, and even defended by former Vice President Dick Cheney. Not only is this a clear abuse of human rights, but it also sets an unethically debased standard for treatment of prisoners. We should not be surprised at this point to learn of American soldiers being tortured in the event they are captured in the line of duty.

4. Ongoing economic terrorism: One of the current favored tactics for attempting to force regime change in countries we do not like is sanctions. However, historically these have had far more crippling consequences on civilian populations than the government. If terrorism is defined as violence, intimidation or terror purposefully or knowingly directed at civilian populations to effect political change, it is unclear to me how many of our previous and current economic sanctions programs are morally distinguishable from other types of terrorism. In Iraq, during the 1990s and early 2000s, economic sanctions championed by the U.S. directly resulted in the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children. When questioned on this, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright callously answered it was "worth it." Sanctions in Iran, currently thought to be targeted and devastating towards the Iranian ruling class, have caused the entire population of Iran, especially the poorer classes, to suffer from food insecurity and massive inflation. The members of the ruling class, who are the ostensible targets of the sanctions, have a greater capacity to remain rich, and therefore feel the sanctions much less. Most importantly, however, from Iraq, Iran, Cuba and others, I am unaware of a single historical example in which economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. were effective in either toppling a government or at least causing a significant change in policy (if you know of one, please let me know in the comments section). It is either a product of our amnesia or obstinacy that we continue to pursue these policies.

I will conclude with the following: it is not because I hold any sort of hostility towards my country that I criticize its policies so harshly, but rather the complete opposite. I love the U.S., and think it should be nothing short of a paragon of freedom and human rights. However, until that happens, Americans must continue to exercise free speech to bring to light our deficiencies.