Political repression is the act of a state entity controlling people by force for political reasons, particularly for the purpose of restricting or undermining their ability to take part in the political life of a society. This reduces their standing compared to others in their community and the world. Political repression is often manifested through policies such as surveillance abuse, police brutality, imprisonment, involuntary settlement, lustration and violent action; or through terror, such as the murder, summary executions, torture, forced disappearances and other extrajudicial punishment of political activists, dissidents or the general population; or the stripping of civil and/or human rights. Political repression can also be reinforced by means outside of written policy, such as by public and private media ownership and self-censorship within the public.
By now you’ll have noticed a common thread in our accounting of human rights violations; namely, that they are most often suffered by Black, Brown, Indigenous and other communities of color. Evidently, racism and political repression go hand-in-hand as weapons of the fundamentally racist and oppressive status quo. The United States currently incarcerates hundreds of political prisoners, the majority of whom are Black, Brown or Indigenous or in solidarity with the anti-racist struggle.
We make the claim that racism remains the driving force in political imprisonment and other forms of repression in the U.S. This has become strikingly evident since the summer of 2020, when the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor triggered a surge in mass resistance to racism and state violence met with militant political repression. Hyper-criminalization of protests, militarization of police forces, mass arrests and detentions, a spike in police violence and murders, impunity for right-wing terrorism and bolstered state surveillance has brought in a new wave of political targeting of the anti-racist movement. Despite having identified white supremacists as the deadliest terrorist threat in the U.S., federal law enforcement continues to focus its anti-terrorism training, infrastructure and operations on so-called “Black identity extremists.”
We also recognize that the violent repression we witness today involves the same acts of violence used by the Department of Homeland Security against refugees and asylum seekers fleeing imperialist violence in their home countries. The “marine corps of the U.S. law enforcement community,” the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), was among the federal law enforcement agencies mobilized to surveil and intimidate protesters during the Black Lives Matter uprisings of 2020. Like other agencies under the banner of “homeland security,” BORTAC has its foundations in the historical practices designed and exported by State Department. The notorious School of the Americas (now the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation – WHINSEC), founded by the U.S. in the Panama Canal Zone in 1946, is a site of inter-continental training in sophisticated tactics of state terrorism and repression deployed to crush leftist movements for the installation and preservation of right-wing regimes at the service of U.S. hemispheric hegemony. We recognize that the U.S. Empire – a term Noam Chomsky has described to define an “integrated policy of U.S. military and economic supremacy” – remains the greatest systemic perpetrator of human rights violations within and beyond its own borders.
This section examines the prominence and many forms of political repression in the United States today and its international applications:
- Voter suppression in the U.S.: if you can’t beat them, cheat them addresses the ways in which the U.S. electoral system is decidedly un-democratic. It describes the ways in which voting, the most fundamental act of citizenship, is manipulated in a way that disenfranchises large portions of the population. It addresses structural and procedural issues and makes recommendations for improvement of these issues.
- While claiming to defend freedom around the world, the U.S. has hundreds of political prisoners – and the majority are people of color examines political imprisonment in the U.S., a massive new wave of political incarceration of anti-racist activists and the intersections of racism, classism and imperialism that lead to imprisonment of those who dare to demand freedom and justice.
- Security, Empire and life in the USA introduces readers to the repressive U.S. security model and its export around the world that forms the infrastructure of Empire.
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 8: that everyone has the right to an effective remedy by competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental human rights granted to them by the constitution or 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 subjected to arbitrary interference with their privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor attacks upon their honor or reputation, and that everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks
- Article 13: that everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of their state
- Article 19: that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
- Article 20: that everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and that no one may be compelled to belong to an association
- Article 21: that everyone has the right to political participation in 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 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 27: that everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits
- Article 30: that nothing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights may be interpreted as implying for the State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of the human rights it stipulates
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 countries revise governmental and other public policies and rescind laws and regulations that perpetuate racial discrimination and pass legislation for prohibiting such discrimination, including policies that function to undermine their civil and political rights.
- 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 ideological.
- 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 such as extradition; arbitrary arrests, detentions and incarcerations; interrogation; and training of police (civil or military) and other officials involved in the arrest, detention or interrogation. Despite its status as a signatory, the United States continues to promote and permit violations of these guidelines within its own carceral system as well as in its foreign sponsorship of prisons, policing and military regimes.
- Convention of the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance establishes a universal framework for affirming and protecting the victims and families of victims of enforced disappearances, which are defined as any kind of arrest, detention abduction or form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or groups acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state. The United States has not signed nor ratified this treaty.
By Camille Landry (National Co-Coordinator)
“Voting is a fundamental civil right denied to many via our electoral system. The built-in structure of the electoral system in the United States promotes and maintains inequality. At no time in the history of this nation have all residents or citizens had the unobstructed right to vote, to hold office, or to experience equality under the law.” (Read more)
While claiming to defend freedom around the world, the U.S. has hundreds of political prisoners — and the majority are people of color
“Political imprisonment in the United States exists primarily as a tool of racist repression. It’s aimed disproportionately at people of color as well as others engaged in anti-racist struggle. Whether in the fight against racism at home or against racist foreign policies, wars, occupation and colonialism, the overarching purpose of political imprisonment is to intimidate and try to crush militant forms of anti-racist struggle.
By treating U.S. political prisoners as ‘common criminals,’ our criminal justice system individualizes and de-contextualizes these cases, ignoring root causes and impeding the development of political solutions to the underlying issues political prisoners have fought for.
Readers can discern for themselves what is revealed in the findings presented here and in the political prisoners list this article analyzes. The large number of people of color and others involved in the anti-racist struggle arrested for their activities is sadly predictable. Our entire history and established political and economic institutions are founded and advanced squarely on the foundations of racism.” (Read more)
By James Jordan (National Co-Coordinator)
“What is the U.S. security model? The U.S. security model is inequality—inequality at the point of a sword. At the end of the day, the homeless man sleeping in the winter cold a few blocks from the White House in Washington, D.C., and the homeless youth sifting through garbage a few blocks from the Plaza Bolívar in Bogotá, both represent the putrid fruits of the same Empire. Wherever we live, within the U.S. or outside it, our struggle must be one as we reach across borders and boundaries to dismantle the Empire and achieve liberation. Therein lies our security.” (Read more)
This chapter is part of a series in AFGJ’s Human Rights in the United States: 2023 Report
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