U.S. Human Rights: Not First, But Better Than Most


In the October 16th issue of the Tripod, an opinion piece argued that we, as U.S. citizens, do not have a right to criticize other nations’ human rights violations because we live “in a country where so many people fear for their life every day.” The piece continues, arguing, “the United States has an indefinite amount of problems to solve before stepping in to aid the rest of the world. Finally, the article concludes, “without acknowledgment of [the U.S.’s] human rights violations, we cannot make any progress, let alone advise any other nation.” This analysis of the U.S.’s role in international human rights is significantly flawed and ridden with faulty and fallacious presuppositions.

Within the very first sentence, a flawed statement arises: “There are arguments that the United States has no “real” human rights issues due to our seemingly accepting environment.” To assert that people believe there are no real human rights violations in the U.S. would be, in the words of Justice Scalia, “pure applesauce.” It is certainly plausible that many have claimed that the U.S. experiences fewer human rights violations or violations of a lesser magnitude. In addition, the article fails to cite even a single example of someone making this absolutist claim.

  The article then asks, “Do we really have the privilege to judge other nations’ definition of human rights?” Not only does this piece gravely exaggerate the current standard of human rights in the United States, but it also relies on the flawed post-modern pre-supposition that somehow all human rights violations are equally egregious. For example, it is reasonable and rational to posit that Trump’s failure to condemn Nazis at Charlottesville, while still bad, is in no way equivalent to the torturing and dismemberment of a dissident journalist, a situation that is currently playing out in Saudi Arabia, a country that somehow sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Some other human rights violations from UNHRC committee members include China’s internment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, the repression of dissent and public criticism in Cuba, as well as the dilapidated state of the Socialist disaster that is Venezuela. It is perfectly reasonable for the United States to criticize these nations’ appalling violations.

Continuing this line of thinking, the piece claims, “the United States has an indefinite amount of problems to solve before stepping in to aid the rest of the world.” While it is undoubtedly true that the United States has human rights problems that need to be addressed, the logical extension of this statement is essentially an absolutist take on Trump’s “America First” that would have the U.S. cut all $27.7 billion planned foreign aid. Admitting that “there are people who, with genuine concern, want to defend human rights internationally,” the article argues that these people are hypocritically “putting other nations’ people before our own,” an absurd and nonsensical proposition. Just because one has concern for international human rights does not mean that one does not care about human rights within the United States. In addition, the piece asserts, “People in our own country suffer from similar fatalities and issues every single day.” Are U.S. citizens jailed for dissent under a zero-tolerance policy as in Egypt? Are U.S. citizens gathered and tortured because of their presumed homosexuality as in Chechnya? Are U.S. citizens jailed for making “blasphemous” comments online or engaging in same-sex conduct as in Pakistan?

Arriving at a conclusion, the article reads, “without acknowledgment of our ubiquitous human rights violations we cannot make any progress, let alone advise any other nation.” The a priori assertion that human rights violations are ubiquitous in the U.S. is simply not true. While human rights violations are reported frequently in media, the upholding of human rights rarely, if ever, gets reported. In addition, the U.S. does, in fact, have the footing to advise other nations, particularly regarding freedom of speech. The United States is the global vanguard of defending and upholding freedom of speech, a freedom that has become increasingly restricted and limited across the world; surely the United States has the authority to advise other nations on this human rights issue. 

The United States certainly does have room for improvement in human rights as the U.S. was ranked only 17th of 159 countries in CATO Institute’s 2017 Human Freedom Index. However, to claim the U.S. has no right to criticize other nations’ civil rights records is simply asinine.

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