« Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home…where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal dignity without discrimination…Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. »
This was the wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt, a principle architect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted sixty-nine years ago. She understood the power of American leadership—she personified it—and she knew that the most effective way to lead is by example—by living our values.
The universal declaration of human rights has been built into the constitutions of numerous countries and has inspired several additional agreements, which now have the force of international law.
Human rights in the U.S.
The advancement of human rights agenda has been a cornerstone of US foreign policy ever since, as a matter of principal as well as national interest.
During the 20th Anniversary of NED – National Endowment for Democracy-, G. Bush insisted in his speech that “advancing freedom is the calling of our country”.
And yet every day, we are witnessing a stunning abdication by the United States of its historical leadership role in the world, leaving a vacuum that authoritarians and tyrants are rushing to fill.
The role of the U.S., even with low performance, is instrumental in forging a broad global consensus on the importance of the respect of human rights in the global political system. Now, with an administration veering sharply from the bipartisan course and de-emphasizing human rights. From an optimistic point of view, at least we gave up hypocritical positions. I hope we don’t fall again in a short-sighted foreign policy that harms more than helps.
Trump’s administration and Human rights
Trump disparaged the idea of promoting democracy among authoritarian allies, by perusing a “principled realism” based not on advocating for human rights or democratization, but “security through stability”, and, at best, “gradual reform”.
When President Trump cozies up to dictators, and denies protection to vulnerable refugees, he undermines the international structures and norms that have helped secure American interests for decades.
Although the relevant dislike for Trump makes is not objective, we should admit that this has always been the US foreign policy path. US foreign policy has shown so far, that principles and values can be set aside when it comes to interests and stability.
This is so cynical viewing everything through the prism of self-interest is not effective, either practically or ethically.
What can be done
The US can consider making greater use of the UN’s universal periodic review process, which provides member states the ability to review and express opinions on human rights conditions among world countries, and for the states under scrutiny to declare what they have done to fulfill their international legal obligations, not only to pressure foes, but to put ostensible allies on notice that the US is not indifferent to the suffering of their citizens, not to mention their future political stability.
The Trump administration gave a free-pass to most human rights abusers in the MENA region, like Sisi, he’s called him several times “a fantastic guy”. Some hope was raised in the case of the Egyptian/American activist “Eya Hijazi”, when Trump put pressure on SISI’s administration to release her. At that time, I was hoping it would be a new demonstration of his commitment to Human Rights, but it seems like it was just one intervention.
Another game that US foreign policy has played for decades is riding two horses at the same time, when it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian peace building process. It is exhausting even to watch: you can’t be a mediator in the peace process and at the same time a powerful ally working intensively to extend your relationship with Israel.
It is crystal clear when Israel is not even mentioned in the list of allies violating human rights. Many give Trump too much credit, relating his announcement to recognize Israel’s self-identified capital Jerusalem as a pressure to stop the “pay for slay” program, unfortunately, I don’t think so. The Taylor Force Act -passed December 6th, 2017 should have been enough, by pulling funding from the Palestinians.
The announcement can be considered a distraction from domestic issues, or a strong-arm move, a veto for Israel that definitely damages the three main components of the peace process in absence of keeping promises and commitment, showing the U.S. as the Israeli lawyer and giving a significant zero-sum gift to extremisms, terrorist and those advocating for the end of the two-state solution.
The Israeli/Palestinian case is a global issue. Maybe it is time to understand that the peace building process shouldn’t be monopolized by two or three countries, and should involve more global initiatives.
You and I have might have different perceptions to what is going on and what we envision: but we should always know that respect for human rights is not some fuzzy sentiment; it is the foundation of peace, justice, and security.