The Obama Administration has given the United States bad marks on human rights for failing to live up to a Soviet-inspired treaty we have never ratified.
With me so far?
The Universal Periodic Review is a relatively new and wholly voluntary report submitted by sovereign states to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It is designed to give an account of how each participating country is living up to its human rights treaty obligations. The U.S. has ratified a number of human rights treaties in the last 60 years, most of which are largely noncontroversial. We have ratified treaties against slavery, torture, child labor, racial discrimination, and those in favor of the political rights of women, freedom of assembly, the right to vote, and equal protection under the law regardless of sex, race, creed or national origin. These are the types of rights easily recognizable to anyone in the Western political tradition.
Where we have drawn the line, however, is in the area of government-guaranteed socio-economic rights, or so-called “positive rights.” Our Constitution limits government and guarantees what our Founders called “ordered liberty” for citizens, and assumes that rights derive not from the state but from God. In this, our essential political text set a new and profound standard for human freedom.
These principles have prevented us from accepting treaties that affirm government’s rights to mandate certain behaviors of private citizens or enterprises. Consequently, one of the key treaties we have refused to ratify is a Soviet-inspired work called the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966. This Treaty imposes obligations on States regarding, among other things, “fair wages,” a “decent living,” and the promotion of workers “to an appropriate higher level.” It declares the “right of everyone to social security,” to “an adequate standard of living,” to “the continuous improvement of living conditions,” and to “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Nations even promise the “progressive introduction” of free higher education.
The Treaty might contain some important and desirable aspirations, but the United States has balked at guaranteeing them with her law and treasure, no matter which party was in power.
President Obama and his allies on the Left would like nothing more than to subjugate the United States to the obligations of this document, and reading through the Administration’s self-report to the Human Rights Council one gets the sense that for the current occupants of the Executive Branch, our refusal to ratify the treaty is of no consequence whatsoever.
The report blames the United States for lacking “fairness and equality” at work, in housing, in education, and in health care, though we have no treaty obligations in these areas. The report names groups of minorities as especially aggrieved, including LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered), ignoring the fact that sexual orientation and gender identity are not categories of non-discrimination in any human rights treaty.
In the area of civil and political rights, the United States takes second place to no country in the world. So it is especially galling that the Obama report has volunteered to publicly scold the U.S. for supposed intolerance to Muslims, for the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy (though noting that President Obama is committed to its repeal), for “linguistic discrimination” in public schools against Hispanics, and for the fact that “Asian-American men suffer from stomach cancer 114 percent more often than non-Hispanic white men.”
This ludicrous recitation of American imperfections is a catalog of the Left’s grievances. No nation in history has done so much, for so many, for so long. The Left believes in a basic tenant of the Enlightenment, one the signers of our Constitution and which American statesmen throughout the centuries have rejected: that man can be perfected through external, coercive, statist mechanisms.
This is morally wrong. It does not work (witness that political bankruptcy known as the Soviet Union). And it debases the shining light of liberty, opportunity, and prosperity known as the United States of America.
The United States under the Bush Administration declined to join the UN Human Rights Council. With members like Cuba, Libya, and China, one could say the Council has a credibility problem. The nations which choose to submit a self-report to this body can look forward to an in-person grilling at a formal presentation and then to receiving the Council’s recommendations for reform of the nations’ laws. Imagine.
Having wasted no time in securing a seat for the United States on the U.N. Human Rights Council, Barack Obama can now look forward to publicly criticizing America for failing to fulfill a Leftist laundry list on a regular basis.
Incidentally, the “right to life” is enshrined in most human rights treaties, including those ratified by the United States. Of all the possible human rights violations, defining a class of people as having lives which legally may be ended is certainly one. 1.2 million U.S. children are killed every year by abortion. Now, that deserves a bad mark.