By Janet Phelan
A proliferation of human rights agencies now litter the political landscape. While these organizations and agencies profess to honor and protect human rights at large, a scrutiny of the activity of these international organizations indicates that they are highly tilted towards protecting and buttressing the agenda of the US, both at home and abroad.
I was recently asked to address a human rights conference in Atlanta, Georgia on the topic of what obstacles are encountered when one attempts to engage international human rights organizations. The idea of an American doing so is strange to many. Does not the US have its own mechanisms for dealing with human rights abuses?
WHY WOULD AN AMERICAN SEEK JUSTICE ABROAD?
On paper, indeed this is so. However, in practice we have found ourselves in a human rights crisis in the US that is of a considerable magnitude. The fact that the mainstream media veers away from reporting on this US human rights crisis does not in any way diminish its reality. As a result of this crisis, US citizens are having their most fundamental rights violated, and in many cases, losing not only their freedom, not only their property, but in many cases, losing their lives. Our press remains largely silent, averting its collective gaze.The US human rights crisis manifests itself in a number of ways. According to killedbypolice.net, police officers in the US killed 1194 people in 2017, up marginally from 1171 in 2016. It is rare that there is any culpability whatsoever for the involved officers.
When Kelly Thomas, a homeless and unarmed mentally ill man, was beaten to death by police officers in Fullerton, California in 2011, there was a public outcry. The involved officers did not incur any sentences and are now suing for reinstatement and back pay.
When police kill with impunity, they seem to target mostly people of color and the mentally ill.
The ongoing human rights crisis also impacts another demographic group, the elderly and disabled, whose property and civil rights are transferred to the care and protection of professional guardians, through probate court proceedings known as adult guardianships. The resultant thefts and untimely deaths attributed to these guardianships have prompted Congressional hearings and GAO reports, with little if any change.
The attack on the rights of the elderly is also bleeding onto the rights of those who would protect them. Concerned family members find themselves subject to restraining orders, which deny them the right to contact their loved ones, as well as gag orders, denying them the ability to speak freely about the deprivation of rights ongoing in probate court. Lawyers who attempt to protect the rights of the elderly in these proceedings are often disbarred. Many of these restraining order and gag order proceedings lack any semblance of due process and are often accomplished without a hearing, a clear violation of the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution.
Equally, the ongoing human rights crisis also can be seen in child custody proceedings, where children with an “interesting” medical condition may be ripped from the care of their families and put into pharmaceutical trial programs, as human lab rats.
The ongoing human rights crisis also manifests in jailing or attempts at criminalization of whistleblowers and journalists such as Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou and Karen Melton Stewart.
In another arena largely ignored or dismissed by the mainstream press, but now becoming too prevalent to ignore, the human rights crisis can be seen in the avalanche of reports coming from ordinary Americans who have been placed into non-consensual weapons testing programs, either with electronic weapons or chemical weapons testing.
These issues by their very nature should be dealt with by the US legal system. However, we are now experiencing a crisis in judicial integrity. Research indicates that judges, who generally have immunity for their actions on the bench, are apparently receiving bribes and payoffs in order to throw cases.
Due to this crisis in judicial integrity, more and more US citizens are seeking justice abroad. Indeed, an increasing number of US citizens are also seeking political asylum from the US. In 2016, over 300 US citizens applied for political asylum in other countries, according to the UNHCR. In a statistic which speaks multitudes for the reluctance of other countries to even admit that the US is abusing its citizens, only eleven of these applications were granted.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN US CITIZENS MAKE COMPLAINTS TO INTERNATIONAL ORGS?
There are structural problems that impact the success of US citizens trying to access justice through international mechanisms. For one, the US habitually declines to sign and ratify human rights treaties. This creates legal obstacles, as one cannot utilize a treaty which the nation in question does not subscribe to. In the rare instance when the US has both signed and ratified international human rights accords, such as in the case of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), it does so with legal “reservations,” which in essence gut any jurisdiction that an international body might have over the US. It should also be noted that the US does not honor the jurisdiction of the international court at The Hague nor the regional court in Costa Rica, which is attached to the Organization of American States and its treaties.
As noted, the US has signed and ratified the CAT, albeit with reservations. Pursuant to this, in 2016 a report on guardianship abuse was filed with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. The report alleged that many of the abuses inflicted on the elderly and disabled through guardianship achieved the official definition of torture and was buttressed by over eighty declarations from guardianship victims and lawyers. The report fell into a black hole. It was acknowledged as received by the UN and not one whit of a response was ever tendered.
Other reports of US human rights abuse are met with disinformation and downright untruths. An example of this is the US’s response to the cyclical Universal Periodic Review of human rights (UPR), wherein the UN every few years cycles through to review the human rights record of every participating country. In the review of the US in 2015, it was reported in New Eastern Outlook that the delegates from the US lied extensively to the international community.