If hyper-inflation applied to political philosophy, “human rights,” like Deutsch Marks in the early Weimar Republic, would be piled into wheelbarrows by the billions for a loaf of bread. The latest profligate printing of “human rights” currency is the Obama administration’s American self-assessment submitted to the UN Council on Human Rights.
A brief digression. The UN Council on Human Rights is the successor organization to the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). In 2003, America openly fought against Libya’s chairmanship of UNCHR. That was when actual “human rights” still mattered.
In 2004, the US ambassador walked out of the UNCHR, after the admission of Sudan, which was then busy with genocide — systematic slaughter of actual human beings — in Darfur. With that gesture, the United States honored actual “human rights,” the rights that belong to flesh-and-blood human beings suffering actual torments. In 2004, the United States could still speak of “human rights” concretely. It could still dignify the concept with reference to real people.
The UNCHR had no credibility as an actual human rights organization. It was dissolved. We did not join the UNCHR’s replacement in 2006, the new U.N. Council on Human Rights, because the credibility of actual “human rights” still mattered. But last year, the Obama administration joined. Is the successor organization more credible? Noah Pollak writes:
“The Council remains as it ever was: a body composed of some of the worst human rights abusers in the world, devoted to attacking Western democracies, demonizing Israel, covering up the abuses of authoritarian regimes, and undermining the pursuit of human rights. The only difference today is that America’s name is being lent to this effort.”
Pollak cites an example: “When the Syrian representative claimed that Israeli children ‘sing merrily as they go to school,’ and I quote, ‘With my teeth I will rip your flesh. With my mouth I will suck your blood,’ the U.S. representative made no protest.” This is the dialogue we dignify and that American tax dollars subsidize.
And now we have officially assessed ourselves, as required by the protocols of the U.N. Council on Human Rights. And we have said to the international community: President Obama has been a paragon of human rights promotion. In every area — race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, labor, home ownership, Native American rights — President Obama has acted nobly.
(On religion, the only mention of human rights solicitude is on behalf of Muslims, though FBI Hate Crime statistics show the following about the 1,732 hate crimes in 2008, the last year for which figures are available — hate crimes against Muslims: 7.5%; hate crimes against Christians, combining Catholics and Protestants: 8.7%; hate crimes against Jews: 66.1%.)
Set against the very real horrors of human rights violations happening around the globe, our American “report” on human rights reads like a crass celebration of Democratic Party talking points:
- “Currently there are several bills in our Congress that seek to strengthen workers’ rights—ensuring that workers can continue to associate freely, organize, and practice collective bargaining as the U.S. economy continues to change.”
That would be the “Employee Free Choice Act” — a measure that would permit unions to blindside management and workers by securing on postcards, by whatever means, a majority vote for a union without any opportunity for the employer to state a case. So, to counter the fact that unions lost more than 4,000 government-supervised elections over the last several years, it is a “human right” to form a union secretly, whether or not workers actually want it.
- “The Department recently obtained consent decrees against some jurisdictions and concluded a settlement with another, and it is preparing to review thousands of redistricting plans that will be submitted after release of the 2010 Census results to ensure that voting districts are not drawn with the purpose or effect of marginalizing minority voters.”
Really? Minority voters have suffered, or might suffer? I’d have thought the administration might be circumspect about the integrity of American elections, since we are still dealing with massive voter fraud that the current DOJ doesn’t wish to address. The administration tells the world that the only election integrity issue left in America is “marginalizing minority voters.” That’s manifestly false — and assuredly not a human rights issue.
- “We are not satisfied with a situation where the unemployment rate for African Americans is 15.8%, for Hispanics 12.4%, and for whites 8.8%, as it was in February 2010. We are not satisfied that a person with disabilities is only one fourth as likely to be employed as a person without disabilities. We are not satisfied when fewer than half of African-American and Hispanic families own homes while three quarters of white families do. We are not satisfied that whites are twice as likely as Native Americans to have a college degree. The United States continues to address such disparities by working to ensure that equal opportunity is not only guaranteed in law but experienced in fact by all Americans.”
Really? As against horrific brutality elsewhere, home ownership rates in America are human rights issues? With what are we truly dissatisfied? Must the gap be zero to achieve true “human rights”? Did the foregoing paragraph say anything whatever about genuine “human rights”?
“Human rights” in this narrative have nothing to do with equal opportunity, and everything to do with equal results. The report tells us that DOJ and EEOC have “reinvigorated efforts” to enforce civil rights laws, and that DOJ is particularly concerned to enforce “disparate impact” regulations:
I urge you to remember that the federal agencies serve an especially critical role in enforcing the Title VI disparate impact regulations. This is because the Supreme Court has held that victims of disparate impact discrimination have no private right of action to enforce these regulations. Alexander v. Sandoval, 121 S. Ct. 1511 (2001). Victims can only turn to the administrative complaint process and, therefore, agencies must be particularly vigilant in ensuring strong enforcement in this area.
In sum, disparate impact — mere difference in numbers between whites and minorities — gives rise to neither legal nor constitutional right, much less any “human right.” Yet our report to the world on “human rights” signals our determination to ferret out and fight any “victim of disparate impact.” This is a trivialization of human rights.
On home ownership in particular, our “human rights” report is absurd. “We are not satisfied when fewer than half of African-American and Hispanic families own homes while three quarters of white families do.” And then: “Following the recent economic crisis, the issue of predatory lending, and particularly discriminatory lending, is an area of enforcement focus. The recession in the United States was fueled largely by a housing crisis, which coincided with some discriminatory lending practices. The subsequent foreclosure crisis has disproportionately affected communities of color.”
So the federal government, and its surrogates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, zealously propelled minority mortgages in the interest of closing that home ownership “human rights” gap — and then when the bubble burst, the “disproportionate impact” on “communities of color” is also a “human rights” issue, and “the federal government has focused resources and efforts to determine whether and where discrimination took place.”
Stupid. And I emphasize stupid because whatever your take on the subprime mortgage crisis, its characterization in America’s “human rights” report to the international community as a “human rights” issue is indisputably stupid.
- “A recent Arizona law, S.B. 1070, has generated significant attention and debate at home and around the world. The issue is being addressed in a court action that argues that the federal government has the authority to set and enforce immigration law. That action is ongoing; parts of the law are currently enjoined.”
Really? By fully democratic processes, Arizona enacts an overwhelmingly popular — inside and outside Arizona — immigration law, and yet the administration considers it a “human rights” concern reportable to the United Nations? Even if S.B. 1070 were remotely a human rights concern — and it is not — reporting a state law that merely adds state manpower to federal law, to the United Nations as a “human rights” issue is sophomoric.
The administration’s sanctimony about its domestic “human rights” agenda might be bearable if it had actively promoted actual human rights anywhere else on the globe. But, to the great sadness of human rights activists, the President has been steadfastly silent about Iran, about Burma, about Zimbabwe, about Congo, and about Sudan — all golden opportunities to recognize actual human beings suffering actual torments, and thus to give critical content to “human rights.”
The phrase means nothing of consequence now. Similarly, therefore, our report to the United Nations.
Kendrick MacDowell is a lawyer and writer in Washington, D.C.