The United States of America has always had an apparent love for human rights. Before independence, the American colonists felt they had a God-given right to a voice in what affects them. In modern times, “freedom of speech”, among others, is a hot-button topic, and essential to all political discourse in the nation. However, our penchant for rights was only an illusion to begin with, as even America’s Declaration of Independence denies a right to property. How far from our claim to love human rights are we?
A sufficient, complete definition of human rights did not exist until December 10, 1948 when 48 United Nations members, including the United States, approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations’ most widely known document, and the world’s second most well known piece of literature just behind the Bible. It outlines the rights of every human being, including life, speech, property, and peaceful association. Since its approval, the only rights introduced into US law that I could find were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both signed by Lyndon B. Johnson at the height of the civil rights movement (which mostly regarded Black rights, but accounted for discrimination based on several factors, including sex). Privacy is the key unacknowledged right, and others that are conditionally adhered to include property, voting to a small degree, “just and favourable conditions of work”, equal pay, a living wage, unionization (it exists in name only, with effectively no protection), “food, clothing, housing and medical care,” and gay marriage (notably, transgender and non-binary people are not mentioned in the UDHR).
The United States itself, especially the CIA, has been known for various war crimes and human rights violations. After the attack on the Twin Towers, the CIA used “enhanced interrogation techniques” – a thinly-veiled disguise for torture, which is forbidden under the UDHR, as well as US and international law. In 1970, the Ohio National Guard responded to lawful protest and opposition (protected under the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution) to the Vietnam war with a mass shooting, which took place on the Kent State University grounds.
According to the US Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights, the most violated human right in America is Article 2 of the UDHR, which states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” The Institute cites the racially-motivated excessive force exerted on George Floyd in 2020 as a shining example; others include our numerous, countless mass shootings which greatly outnumber and out-proportion that of Europe.
Article 2 is violated in malicious legislation– or attempted legislation– as well. For example, in Michigan a bill was recently introduced to classify trans-supporting parents and doctors as child abusers. Alabama has signed a bill into law that classifies gender-affirming care as a felony. Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law had a now-withdrawn amendment which would have endangered transgender youth.
Even after the civil rights movement, and considering Amazon’s draconian working conditions, we’re still behind the rest of the world on many key rights, including life and liberty, despite being enshrined in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. In addition to being one of the least safe places to live in the developed world, we have an inherently backwards political system, a failed healthcare system, and only an imaginary commitment to human rights.