U.N. Holds Best Hope for Human Rights but U.S. Is Reluctant to Play Its Part

National Catholic Reporter, May 20, 1994 | Go to article overview

U.N. Holds Best Hope for Human Rights but U.S. Is Reluctant to Play Its Part


At the end of World War II, the nations of the Earth acted on their determination that never again would the people of an entire nation like Germany have no place in the international arena to make known the brutality being exercised against them. Humanity created the United Nations to do two things - to make war on war and to give international protection to the basic human rights of all persons regardless of where they live.

Over the past 50 years the United Nations has adopted more than 20 major human rights covenants. They have been ratified by the vast majority of the nations of the Earth; compliance with these human rights treaties is now monitored by a dozen U.N. committees in New York or Geneva. The peoples of the Earth have a place to present their grievances. Enforcement powers are still too meager, but at least the United Nations is active engaged in promoting what Amnesty International aptly calls the "mobilization of shame."

The United States, alas, has ratified few of the major human rights covenants. As a result, the United States has no membership on the monitoring committees and consequently can neither criticize or be criticized.

The United States needs the corrections of a world body on human rights. Aggrieved citizens can, of course, go to court in the United States but most courts have been stingy in granting jurisdiction as well as ungenerous in the remedies they offer.

One of the worst sins of omission is the refusal of the U.S. Senate to ratify the American covenant on human rights. President Carter is the only chief executive to urge its ratification.

If the United States ratified this treaty, it would be able to participate in the work of the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights based in Costa Rica. The United States could add its voice and vote to those of some 30 nations in Latin America who take an ever more active role in monitoring and adjudicating the level of compliance nations are giving to the promises they made about human rights. If the United States became a formal member of the family of Latin America, it could, of course, be criticized and even sued. That indeed would be a highly desirable development!

The United States has ratified the U.N. covenants on genocide and political rights. But, as astonishing as it seems, the U.S. Senate has not ratified the U. …

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U.N. Holds Best Hope for Human Rights but U.S. Is Reluctant to Play Its Part
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