Slavery in the U.S. was once called “the peculiar institution” but few things are more peculiar than the racism and white supremacy that prompted and fueled the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow, and today’s spectacularly peculiar climate of racial animus that characterizes life in modern-day USA. Racial inequality and white supremacy play foundational roles in shaping many aspects of reality in the United States.
Racial inequality is a common underpinning almost all human rights violations and race is a common determinant of falling victim to a human rights violation. It permeates every economic, political and social system at the basis of U.S. life. Racial oppression is a driving force in widespread human rights violations, even when race is not specifically mentioned in the laws and policies that created and maintain these conditions.
This section analyzes several different iterations of racial bias and white supremacy in the United States today:
- Black America & white supremacy: race as fundamental to human rights violations examines racism and how it is expressed through institutions, policies and practices.
- From “Black Lives Matter” to “housing is a human right”: a look at structural genocide spotlights the increasingly life-threatening structural violence impacting Black and Brown communities amid a growing housing crisis.
- Nobody’s child: victims of the child welfare system examines an institution that is generally considered benign but is, in fact, an integral part of the unholy alliance between the institutional racism at the base of the U.S. healthcare systems, the War on Drugs, educational apartheid and neglect, mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline.
- Cruel but not unusual: the economics and inherent racism of mass incarceration takes a deep dive into the carceral system as it applies to Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples in the U.S.
- Crueler but still not unusual: the U.S. death penalty explores one of the most fundamental violations of human rights, namely, the American penchant for killing offenders – especially those who take white lives.
Violations of international human rights law
Identified articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights violated by the United States Federal Government:
- Article 1: that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights
- Article 2: that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race
- Article 3: that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security
- Article 4: that no one should be held in slavery or servitude
- Article 5: that no one should be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Article 6: that everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law
- Article 7: that all are equal before the law and entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law
- Article 9: that no one should be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile
- Article 10: that everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing in the determination of their civil rights and obligations
- Article 11: that everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty
- Article 12: that no one should be subject to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence
- Article 13: that everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within a state
- Article 16: that everyone has the right to found a family, and that the family is the most fundamental unit of society that is entitled to protection by the state
- Article 17: that everyone has the right to own property alone and in association with others, and no one should be deprived of their property
- Article 21: that everyone has the right to the government of their country, directly or through freely chosen representatives; that everyone has the right to equal access to public services in their country; and that the will of the people should be the basis of the authority of government as expressed through periodic elections and universal suffrage
- Article 22: that everyone has the right to social security and the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable to their dignity and the full realization of their human development
- Article 23: that everyone has the right to choose their employment, earn equal pay and live in economic conditions sufficient for a dignified existence
- Article 25: that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, social services and security in case of loss of livelihood caused by circumstances out of their control
- Article 26: that everyone has the right to an education and the full realization of their human development
Identified core international human rights treaties violated by the United States Federal Government:
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination requires that states revise governmental and other public policies and rescind laws and regulations that perpetuate racial discrimination and pass legislation for prohibiting such discrimination, including discrimination in access to political participation and all forms of civil rights as well as discrimination in access to education, employment, occupation and housing.
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights elaborates further on the civil and political rights and freedoms listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The treaty requires states to commit to the promotion and respect of the self-determination of its citizens and ban all forms of discrimination in access to civil and political rights, such as racial.
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes a universal framework for the protection and preservation of the most basic economic, social and cultural rights inherent to all human beings, including the right to work in just and favorable conditions, to social protection, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education and to the enjoyment and benefits of cultural freedom. The United States has not ratified this treaty.
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment prohibits torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The treaty requires states to take legislative, administrative and judicial measures to prevent such acts from taking place during activities that disproportionately target racial minorities, such arbitrary arrests, detentions, and incarcerations, as well as in the training of police (civil or military) and other officials involved in an arrest, detention or interrogation.
- Convention on the Rights of Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history not ratified by the United States, establishes a universal framework for the protection and advancement of the rights of children to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity. It affirms the responsibility of the state to protect children by ensuring that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for their care conform with acceptable standards of safety, health and protection before the law without distinction of any kind, such as race.
By Camille Landry (National Co-Coordinator)
“It’s not a new concept; it’s a very old reality. White supremacy and racism are as foundational to this nation as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In fact, they pre-date nationhood. This third decade of the 21st century has seen numerous incidents of white terrorism and a steadfast refusal by political and social leaders to try to eradicate systemic racism in this country. The United States remains separate, unequal and actively engaged in violations of human rights.” (Read more)
From “Black Lives Matter” to “housing is a human right”: a look at spotlight on structural genocide in the U.S.
By Nicole Chase (intern) and Natalia Burdynska (National Co-Coordinator)
“From overwhelming impunity for racist police murders of unarmed civilians to the disastrous mismanagement of a homelessness epidemic disproportionately killing Black and Brown communities, the human rights violations promoted and permitted under our government’s watch are tantamount to structural genocide. The Biden Administration’s negligence of a deadly housing crisis, made even more lethal when compounded by the spread of a deadly virus to Black and Brown communities, constitutes a crime in the eyes of the international community.” (Read more)
“Few U.S. institutions display the intersectional nature of social problems as do child welfare issues. Race, wealth inequalities, class, employment, health care (especially mental health and substance abuse treatment), housing, education, the social safety net (or lack thereof), policing, the criminal justice system, and every other institution affect children more than adults, because children are more vulnerable and have a lesser ability to act in their own best interests. Thus the most vulnerable among us are at the mercy of a system whose racism, classism, bigotry and continued violation of human rights make them yet another instrument of genocide.” (Read more)
By Camille Landry (National Co-Coordinator)
“Mass incarceration in the United States is a crime against humanity. It disproportionately ruins the lives of Black, Brown and Indigenous people. It wastes human potential. It destabilizes neighborhoods and destroys communities. We all pay dearly for it, in human as well as economic terms. Both at its roots and in its practices and policies, mass incarceration as practiced by the United States is an egregious abuse of human rights.” (Read more)
By Camille Landry (National Co-Coordinator)
“Volumes have been written about it. Hundreds of thousands of people have protested it, written to their legislators and congress members, prayed about it, sung about it, and hoped that it would end. It has been condemned as inhumane, ineffective, racist, cruel, antiquated, vengeful and just plain wrong by individuals and groups ranging from several popes and other religious leaders to criminal justice scholars, police chiefs and prison wardens. Yet the death penalty in the United States persists.” (Read more)
This chapter is part of a series in AFGJ’s Human Rights in the United States: 2023 Report
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