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Obama Spells New Hope for Human Rights

By       Message Marjorie Cohn       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Celebrations of Barack Obama's election as President of the United States erupted in countries around the world. From Europe to Africa to the Middle East, people were jubilant. After suffering though eight years of an administration that violated more human rights than any other in U.S. history, Obama spells hope for a new day.

While George W. Bush was President, I wrote Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law, which chronicled his war of aggression, policy of torture, illegal killings, unlawful Guantnamo detentions, and secret spying on Americans. When the book was published, it seemed unimaginable that we could elect a President who would turn those policies around. But the election of Obama holds that potential.

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This is the first in a series of articles in which I will suggest how the Obama administration can start undoing some of the damage Bush wrought, by ratifying three of the major human rights treaties and the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court.

Although the U.S. government frequently criticizes other countries for their human rights transgressions, the United States has been one of the most flagrant violators. We have refused to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). And while the United States worked with other countries for 50 years to create the International Criminal Court, it has failed to ratify that treaty as well. When we ratify a treaty, it becomes part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

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In this article, I will explain why the United States should ratify the ICESCR, which is particularly relevant now that we are in the midst of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal helped lift us out of the Depression, gave his famous Four Freedoms Speech, focused on freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Roosevelt fleshed out the freedom from want and fear principles in his Economic Bill of Rights. It contained equality of opportunity, the right to a job and a decent wage, the end of special privileges for the few, universal civil liberties, and guaranteed old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and medical care.

FDR's bill of rights formed the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt helped draft, and which the U.N. General Assembly adopted in 1949. The Declaration embraced two types of human rights: civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.

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These rights were codified in two binding treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. An updated edition of her book, "Drones and (more...)
 

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