Prioritizing Human Rights

12 12 2008

I know Human Rights Day was on Wednesday, but I thought I would cross-post an interesting piece on how to incorporate human rights law and principles into U.S. domestic policy making  that I saw on the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights website, entitled Making Human Rights a Domestic Priority.

In an effort to institutionalize the nation’s bipartisan commitment to human rights at home, the American Constitutional Society for Law and Policy (ACS) has released a report by human rights scholar and Fordham law professor Catherine Powell offering guidance to the next presidential administration on how to integrate human rights principles into U.S. domestic policy making.

In response to a widening gap between what the U.S. promotes abroad and what it practices at home, Powell laments how “human rights has come to be seen as a purely international concern, even though it is fundamentally the responsibility of each nation to guarantee basic rights for its own people, as a matter of domestic policy.”

Human Rights at Home: A Domestic Blueprint for the New Administration” recommends either transforming or replacing the current U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) with a U.S. Commission on Civil and Human Rights to bridge the divide.  Armed with a broader mandate, this new commission would monitor both civil and human rights progress in the U.S., report on U.S. compliance with international human rights treaties, and investigate and hear complaints of human rights violations in the U.S.

A group of experts and senior officials from various federal agencies would implement the findings.

To avoid the politicization plaguing the present USCCR, the report recommends that every commissioner be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to ensure “highly qualified leadership, broad bipartisan consensus, accountability, and professionalization of the Commission’s work.”

Currently, the president and the Congress are each allowed to appoint four out of the eight commissioners to the USCCR without either branch consulting the other. Single party dominance has also worried some critics after two commissioners reregistered as independents shortly after being appointed as Republicans, bringing the total of Republican commissioners to six.

Powell said that independence and credibility are critical in investigating allegations of human rights violations, such as those during the responses to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

A recent survey by The Opportunity Agenda reveals substantial support for advancing a strong human rights agenda in the U.S. For example, 80 percent of Americans believe each person has certain basic rights even if governments don’t recognize them and that the U.S. should “strive to uphold human rights in the U.S. because there are people being denied their human rights in our country.”

Plus, the public also overwhelmingly agrees that equal access to public education (82 percent), equal opportunity regardless of race or gender (85 and 86 percent), a right to health care (72 percent), and freedom from torture and fair treatment by the criminal justice system (83 percent) are in fact human rights.

Such social justice issues of fairness and equality speak to the heart of the Blueprint’s aims.  As Powell notes, “We should make the transition from a society of structural inequality to one in which not only the very highest glass ceilings are broken, but also in which sticky floors and broken ladders to opportunity are repaired.”

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