In December of 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights” 217 (III) A (Paris, 1948), http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/. While a non-binding declaration, the document was drafted shortly following World War II, and the United Nations was emboldened by a desire to prevent the horrors of that war from ever happening again. It was intended to be a document so fundamental, so basic, that no decent person would argue against it’s validity. There are 30 articles in the UDHR. The United States’ Government is claimed to be in violation of 12 of these.
In an article for the BBC, Imogen Foulkes writes: “The universal declaration promised (among other things) the right to life, the right not to be tortured, and the right to seek asylum from persecution. The declaration was followed just one year later by the adoption of the Geneva Conventions, designed to protect civilians in war, and to guarantee the right of medical staff in war zones to work freely.” Imogen Foulkes, “Are we heading towards a ‘post human rights world’?, BBC News, December 30 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38368848
The United States has never fully realized the ideals enshrined in that declaration, nor are we moving toward doing so. If anything, we are moving away from it.  Amnesty International, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 2019,” accessed February 14, 2021, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/united-states-of-america/report-united-states-of-america/.  Human Rights Watch, “United States Events of 2019,” accessed February 14, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/united-states.
Torture works. OK, folks? You know, I have these guys—“Torture doesn’t work!”—believe me, it works. And waterboarding is your minor form. Some people say it’s not actually torture. Let’s assume it is. But they asked me the question: What do you think of waterboarding? Absolutely fine. But we should go much stronger than waterboarding. That’s the way I feel. They’re chopping off heads. Believe me, we should go much stronger, because our country’s in trouble. We’re in danger. We have people that want to do really bad things!David A. Graham, “Donald Trump’s Specious Claims About Torture,” The Atlantic, February 17, 2016, … Continue readingDonald Trump, speaking at a campaign event in South Carolina, February 17th, 2016.
To our knowledge, The Trump Administration never reinstated the policy of using waterboarding, or any other discontinued torture method. To my knowledge, Joe Biden hasn’t said anything about this during his latest campaign or since his inauguration, but as a United States Senator, he sponsored the bill S. 1876, which would have made waterboarding illegal. Part of his speech upon introducing the bill read:
“We cannot continue to equivocate and dissemble on this matter. We need to send a clear message that torture, inhumane, and degrading treatment of detainees is unacceptable and is not permitted by U.S. law. Period. Therefore, my bill prohibits all officers and agents of the United States from using techniques of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.”Senator Biden, speaking on S. 1876, 110th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 153 (July 25, 2007): S 9923.
The bill died in committee.
FDR’s Second Bill of Rights
During his State of the Union Address on January 11, 1944, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed the ‘Second Bill of Rights’. Contrary to the name’s implication, this was never meant to be enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, itself, but rather to be implemented through a series of federal laws. He intended for this to happen after the end of the Second World War.  Dr. Joe Chuman, “A Second Bill of Rights,” New York Society for Ethical Culture, May 1, 2020, https://ethical.nyc/a-second-bill-of-rights/.
Unfortunately, FDR died in office on April 12, 1945. He didn’t live to see V-E day in May of that year, V-J day in August of that year, or the official end to the war through which he had led the nation. Without FDR’s advocacy, his vision for the Second Bill of Rights died with him. So what was in the Second Bill of Rights?
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “State of the Union Message to Congress” (speech, Washington, DC, January 11, 1944), Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, … Continue reading
To date, the United States of America has accomplished exactly none of these. If any of these are proposed now, in the United States, these are decried as ‘radical’ or any other number of presumptively perjorative, yet inaccurate terms. None of these ideas are novel. None of these ideas are radical. They were proposed by the President of the United States 77 years ago.
You can’t tell me that we can’t do it. Or that we shouldn’t do it. Or that enacting these policies would be ‘disastrous’. Things are what we make them to be. Today, the American people are told ‘here are some crumbs, survive on them.’ Or ‘We’re going to pepper spray a 9 year old black girl. She’ll survive.’ Or ‘So what if we have the highest number of people incarcerated per capita, they’ll survive.’
I think the American people deserve to live, don’t you? Not just survive.
I leave you with a quotation from the 1944 State of the Union Address referenced earlier:
“This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery.
“We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.
“But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.”
|↑1||FDR Presidential Library and Museum, Eleanor Roosevelt holding poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in English). November, 1949. FDR Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, NY. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fdrlibrary/27758131387/|
|↑2||UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights” 217 (III) A (Paris, 1948), http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.|
|↑3||Imogen Foulkes, “Are we heading towards a ‘post human rights world’?, BBC News, December 30 2016. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38368848|
|↑4||Amnesty International, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 2019,” accessed February 14, 2021, https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/united-states-of-america/report-united-states-of-america/.|
|↑5||Human Rights Watch, “United States Events of 2019,” accessed February 14, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/united-states.|
|↑6||David A. Graham, “Donald Trump’s Specious Claims About Torture,” The Atlantic, February 17, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/contra-donald-trump-torture-does-not-work/463293/.|
|↑7||Senator Biden, speaking on S. 1876, 110th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 153 (July 25, 2007): S 9923.|
|↑8||Dr. Joe Chuman, “A Second Bill of Rights,” New York Society for Ethical Culture, May 1, 2020, https://ethical.nyc/a-second-bill-of-rights/.|
|↑9||Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, “State of the Union Message to Congress” (speech, Washington, DC, January 11, 1944), Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/address_text.html|