Human Rights Day December 10
Tomorrow is Human Rights Day, and though it may not be something you are familiar with, it serves as a healthy reminder at a time of year when we are particularly concerned with those who are less fortunate. We generally associate the term with abuses happening in faraway places— in countries with dictators or a history of conflict. I suggest we look around our own country and consider the human rights of people with no access to health care or a decent job. Let’s consider how we treat one another, especially the disenfranchised. The number of US citizens currently incarcerated is staggering. A large proportion of these prisoners suffer from some kind of mental illness. As the mother of a son with Asperger’s Syndrome, living in a state with one of the highest rates of youth incarceration in the country, I am particularly troubled by this statistic. Solitary confinement, which is standard operating procedure in this country, is a form of torture— period. And the death penalty, which is characterized by an individual’s racial and socio-economic status, is still practiced in this country, although it has been outlawed in two thirds of the nations around the world. Capital punishment has no proven deterrent value, and costs tens of millions of dollars more than permanent incarceration. And sometimes, an innocent prisoner is executed. We can do better than this.
The fact that human rights have an international connotation is a good thing. When you look at any issue through an international human rights perspective it removes whatever bias you carry with you, whether that be political or religious. There is never any justification for the cruel and unusual punishment of any prisoner. During the war on terror, our country implemented policies resulting in many human rights violations – from the well publicized use of torture at Abu Grahib to the detention without charge or fair trial of prisoners at Guantanamo and Bagram. Both prisons are still operating and there has been complete impunity for those who should be held responsible for these gross violations of human rights. Like every country, the United States should investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for all human rights violations. Thus far, no senior official from the Bush administration has been investigated. This is not only a travesty of justice; it goes against everything we stand for as a people.
There is a frightening acceptance of violence and cruelty in our society. The new overzealous immigration laws proposed in South Carolina and other states are overtly racist and remind me of the policies of interning Japanese Americans during World War II. The toughest immigration laws have taken hold in many southern states with a long history of troubled race relations. Federal immigration policies put up to 30,000 people in detention annually and deport 400,000 people a year. These laws are meant to instill fear, and they are doing just that. The burden on local law enforcement and the cruel separation of families is well documented. While violent convicted criminals have been deported, other deportations are unnecessary and inappropriate. Those held in one of the 250 detention centers have no access to legal counsel. There is nothing American about this.
Anti-gay rhetoric is too often tolerated and manifests in bullying. No one’s rights should be determined by their sexuality, gender, religion, political beliefs or country of origin. Since this issue is being manipulated by political candidates who base their opinions on their religious beliefs, let me point out the hypocrisy to practicing Christians who selectively decide who deserves decent treatment and basic human rights and who doesn’t. As we celebrate the birth of Christ, we should remember that he was persecuted for his beliefs, tortured, and executed by the state. Why is this part of the story largely ignored? Most Christians take the lessons of the Bible to heart and try in some small way to mirror Christ’s actions in their own lives, especially during the holiday season. If you can find a way to incorporate the ideas behind Human Rights Day in to your thinking this holiday season, you might find a new way to contribute to peace on earth and good will to all men and women.
For further information please check out the Book Salon Chat Juan Mendez and I did on Firedoglake. htp://fdlbooksalon.com/2011/12/03/fdl-book-salon-welcomes-juan-e-mendez-and-marjory-wentworth and look for our interview on truthout.org tomorrow.