[News] The US Has Long Led the Assault on Human Rights

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 2 14:02:14 EDT 2020



​​​​​​​Ajamu Baraka, BAR - 02 Sep 2020 


The historical record on U.S. human rights policies, both domestic and
international, is one of hypocrisy, deceit, and denigration. 

_"Europeans on both sides of the Atlantic reconciled slavery with human
rights by declaring non-whites non-human."_ 

The idea of human rights is premised on the position that human beings
come into society with the expectation that the society they are born
into will recognize their inherent dignity. That assumption is supposed
to be reflected in social relations, laws and practices that allow for
the individual to realize their inherent dignity.  This understanding
was the foundation for the liberal conception of individual human rights
which emerged as part of the ideological weaponry of the rising
bourgeoisie in Europe and in its colonies in the 18thcentury.   

Liberal bourgeois rights were individual and supposedly natural,
stemming from the notion of natural law, and therefore, inalienable. A
just state was, therefore, viewed as one in which individual rights were
recognized and respected.  

The problematic here is obvious.  

The liberal bourgeois revolution emerged while Europe was still involved
in a violent assault on the peoples of the Americas and an inhumane
trade in human beings and their super-exploitation. One might assume
that this might pose a moral and philosophical dilemma, but it did not. 

_"Europe was still involved in a violent assault on the peoples of the
Americas and an inhumane trade."_ 

The contradiction of asserting the inherent dignity and value of the
human with inalienable rights while simultaneously committing genocide,
raping, murdering and enslaving millions simply required a categorical
conversion in relationship to those human beings.  Stated simply, those
human beings were assigned to the category of the non-human.  

Over time -- and Europeans point to this as an example of their evolved
thought -- some of the colonized were allowed to achieve the status of
associated humans. This "enlightened" position stemmed from the needs of
the colonial project for low-level functionaries, as well as natives who
would serve as buffers and legitimizers of colonial rule.  

This is the basis for the global neocolonial rule by Europe and the
quest for a more perfect union in the United States where Black people
and other colonized peoples can aspire to become fully human, measured
by the degree to which they have assimilated "white" cultural standards
and have "pledged allegiance" to the settler project. 

With this truncated view of human rights, the U.S. settler state
scalped, murdered, burned, raped, shot, conquered and enslaved across
the land mass that became the United States, with impunity and moral
justification granted by a God-given manifest destiny.  

The U.S. Settler State and the Contradictions of Liberal Human Rights  

The modern conception of human rights emerged out of the carnage of the
second imperialist war, popularly known as World-War II. The modern
human rights framework was a product of the growing cold-war between the
two victorious blocks: the Soviet bloc, largely responsible for
defeating Nazi Germany, and the Western bloc under the control of the
U.S., whose late entry into the two-front war in Europe allowed it to
emerge as the predominant power occupying most of Western Europe.  

As a result of the intensifying struggle between those two blocs, and
the demands from the public and the colonized world -- who took
seriously the rhetoric contained in the Atlantic Charter issued during
the war by Western allied forces, which condemned the forceful
usurpation of lands and declared that the right to self-determination
was a fundamental right --the meaning and scope of human rights became a
contested area of struggle.  

_"The colonized world took seriously the rhetoric contained in the
Atlantic Charter."_ 

Black activists from the U.S. saw in the developing human rights idea a
strategic opportunity to press the international community to take up
the interrelated issues of racial oppression and colonialism. The
organized agitation of Black activists and petitions to the newly
created United Nations from the National Negro Congress (NNC), National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Civil
Rights Congress (CRC) with its famous document "We Charge Genocide," had
a major impact on the development and evolution of the human rights

But the U.S. led the charge to curtail the scope and content of human
rights. It advocated for and won the battle to bifurcate human rights
into "civil and political rights," and "Economic, social and cultural
rights" (ESCR).  It also ensured that the first human rights document
produced by the UN Human Rights Commission under the leadership of
Elenore Roosevelt would be a mere declaration of principles without any
legally binding obligations so as to placate Southern U.S. Senators who
were afraid of the possible intervention of this body to address the
U.S. apartheid system.  

Real human rights, according to the U.S. and Western European powers,
were civil and political with economic, social and cultural rights --
like the right to healthcare, housing, food, education, leisure and the
practice of one's language and culture -- being merely aspirational.
Consequently, the breakdown between the two approaches was between the
West and civil and political rights and the East that championed
collective ESCR's.  

Trump and Human Rights: Continuing the Repressive Legacy 

The historical record on U.S. human rights policies, both domestic and
international, is one of hypocrisy, deceit, and denigration.  

Even in the field of civil and political rights that was recognized by
the West, the record of abuse if horrific.  

With the white national reconciliation ushered by the Hayes Tilden
compromise that ended reconstruction after the civil war, racial
terrorism and apartheid fascism in the Southern states was introduced
and legally codified in the Plessy v Ferguson case of 1896.  

Repression was not limited to the Black population. The bloody march of
conquest across the country was completed by the end of the 19th
century. For the millions of immigrant settlers, many of whom brought
strange ideas of freedom that included a commitment to socialism, the
state responded with legislation to strengthen the power of the state to
curtail any "subversive" thought or activity.  

The curtailment of civil and political rights was reflected in
legislations like the Espionage Act of 1917 [1], Sedition Act of 1918
[2], Smith Act of 1940 [3] and the McCarren Act of 1950 [4].  

The post-second-world-war response to the Black anti-colonial,
democratic and human rights struggle was to unleash the national
security state, especially during the 1960s. From the FBI's CONITELPO to
the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (1996) [5], the USA
Patriot Act (2001) [6], and the National Defense Authorization Act
Section 1021 (2012 [7]) during the Obama regime, which authorized
indefinite detentions and implicit support to extrajudicial executions
of U.S. citizens by the Executive, the U.S. state has not hesitated in
strengthening its repressive capacities.  

_"The response to the Black anti-colonial, democratic and human rights
struggle was to unleash the national security state."_ 

President Obama shut down the occupy movement, expanded mass
surveillance, assassinated U.S. citizens, including a 16 year-old,
expanded the DOD 1033 program responsible for militarizing the nation's
police forces by 2,400%, and characterized the resisters in Baltimore,
who took to the streets after the Freddy Gray murder, as thugs and

Various United Nations human rights entities -- the Human Rights Council
and Committee, the Universal Periodic Review process, and the Committee
on Racial Discrimination (CERD) -- issued scathing reports on the human
rights situation under Obama, a continuation of the rampant human rights
violations of George W. Bush era.  

This is the foundation upon which Trump is building: a bipartisan,
systematic failure to protect the human rights that are supposed to be
the cornerstone of the liberal project.  

What this means is that if human rights are to have any value for the
oppressed, they must be liberated from the liberal project, reconnected
with economic, social and cultural rights, and grounded in the radical
people(s)-centered human rights framework that takes the position that
without authentic democracy and socialism, human rights are worthless. 

_Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace
and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket.
Baraka serves on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Peace Council and
leadership body of the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC). He is
an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and
contributing columnist for Counterpunch._ He was recently awarded the US
Peace Memorial 2019 Peace Prize and the Serena Shirm award for
uncompromised integrity in journalism. _  _ 


_Please join the conversation on Black Agenda Report's Facebook page at

_Or, you can comment by emailing us at __comments at blackagendareport.com_


[2] https://www.independent.org/news/article.asp?id=1207
[4] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2004/12/mcca-d18.html
[5] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/06/scus-j22.html
[7] https://theintercept.com/2018/05/01/ndaa-2018-aumf-detention/
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