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Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Violations’
July 3, 2015 2

Yes, Justice Thomas, the Government Can Deprive People of Dignity

The word “dig­nity” appears 30 times in last week’s Supreme Court mar­riage equal­ity case, Oberge­fell v. Hodges. Describ­ing the same-sex cou­ples who aspired to marry, Jus­tice Anthony Kennedy, writ­ing for the 5–4 major­ity, stated:

Their hope is not to be con­demned to live in lone­li­ness, excluded from one of civilization’s old­est insti­tu­tions. They ask for equal dig­nity in the eyes of the law. The Con­sti­tu­tion grants them that right. supreme-court-civil-rights




In a bit­ter dis­sent, Jus­tice Clarence Thomas demurred, stat­ing that “the Con­sti­tu­tion con­tains no ‘dig­nity’ Clause.” He argued that the gov­ern­ment is “inca­pable of bestow­ing dig­nity,” stat­ing flatly that” human dig­nity can­not be taken away by the government.”

Aston­ish­ingly, Jus­tice Thomas then attempted to prove his dubi­ous propo­si­tion by cit­ing two extreme and rep­re­hen­si­ble gov­ern­ment actions that were actu­ally designed to deprive vic­tims of “equal dig­nity under the law” – slav­ery and the incar­cer­a­tion of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent dur­ing World War II:

Slaves did not lose their dig­nity … because the gov­ern­ment allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in intern­ment camps did not lose their dig­nity because the gov­ern­ment con­fined them.

But the gov­ern­ment did not “allow” blacks to be enslaved – the laws of the time facil­i­tated and empow­ered slave own­ers and enforced slavery.

And the Japan­ese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League was rightly “appalled” by Jus­tice Thomas’ blind­ness to the impact of the government’s shame­ful and unwar­ranted forcible relo­ca­tion and incar­cer­a­tion of 120,000 Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent, the vast major­ity of whom were citizens.

In 1942, just 10 weeks after the sur­prise attack on Pearl Har­bor, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt issued his Exe­cu­tion Order 9066, pro­vid­ing the legal author­ity for this depri­va­tion of lib­erty and dig­nity. Roosevelt’s exec­u­tive action was issued against the back­drop of wide­spread, base­less fears that Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese ances­try might pose a threat to the U.S – anx­i­ety that was cer­tainly fed by a long his­tory of prej­u­dice and xeno­pho­bia direct against Japan­ese Americans.

Those incar­cer­ated in the camps were uprooted from their com­mu­ni­ties, sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies, their homes, and their pos­ses­sions, and lost their per­sonal lib­er­ties and free­doms until the end of the war.

Trag­i­cally, the president’s exec­u­tive order was bol­stered by addi­tional con­gres­sional enact­ments. And when the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of these actions was chal­lenged in two main cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – Hirabayashi v. U.S. andKore­matsu v. United States – the Court held that these clearly dis­crim­i­na­tory actions by the gov­ern­ment were, in fact, jus­ti­fied and constitutional.

Now, 73 years later, the Anti-Defamation League uses the cruel and unwar­ranted wartime treat­ment of Amer­i­cans of Japan­ese descent as a teach­able moment for our nation on the dan­gers of stereo­typ­ing, prej­u­dice, and racial pro­fil­ing. While we can honor and admire indi­vid­u­als that can retain their per­sonal dig­nity under the most adverse con­di­tions, there should be no doubt, Jus­tice Thomas, that the gov­ern­ment can deprive peo­ple of their “equal dignity.”

For­tu­nately, a Supreme Court major­ity has now held that the Con­sti­tu­tion man­dates that same-sex cou­ples are enti­tled to equal treat­ment – and mar­riage equality.

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February 28, 2014 0

U.S. Highlights Anti-Semitism as a Human Rights Concern

Yes­ter­day Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry released the 2013 Coun­try Reports on Human Rights Prac­tices, a com­pendium of the world’s worst human rights vio­la­tions, includ­ing Bashar Al-Assad’s bru­tal­ity against his own peo­ple in Syria and crack­downs on fun­da­men­tal free­doms in places like Rus­sia, Egypt, and Ukraine.

The report high­lighted another major human rights con­cern that man­i­fests in just about every region: the per­sis­tence of anti-Semitism, whether pro­moted by offi­cial media, polit­i­cal par­ties, or ped­dled on the streets in the form of graf­fiti or harassment.


Anti-Semitism also remained a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem in 2013. Accord­ing to a sur­vey of eight Euro­pean mem­ber states by the Euro­pean Union Agency for Fun­da­men­tal Rights, harass­ment of Jews con­tin­ued, with one-quarter of respon­dents stat­ing they expe­ri­enced some form of anti-Semitic harass­ment in the 12 months before the sur­vey. In the Mid­dle East, media occa­sion­ally con­tained anti-Semitic arti­cles and car­toons, some of which glo­ri­fied or denied the Holo­caust and blamed all Jews for actions by the state of Israel.

Threats to reli­gious prac­tice also emerged dur­ing the year. For exam­ple, the Par­lia­men­tary Assem­bly of the Coun­cil of Europe passed a non-binding res­o­lu­tion imply­ing that reli­gious male cir­cum­ci­sion – as prac­ticed by Jews and Mus­lims, and other reli­gions – is a human rights violation.


These reports are cause for con­cern but they also point to the increase in U.S. report­ing on anti-Semitism as a human rights prob­lem.  ADL has called for rig­or­ous U.S. mon­i­tor­ing as an indis­pens­able tool in spot­light­ing the prob­lem and sup­ported enact­ment of the law requires U.S. embassies to report trends in anti-Semitism as part of their core human rights work.

Today, the num­ber of coun­tries in which the State Depart­ment is doc­u­ment­ing inci­dents of anti-Semitism has more than dou­bled since that new law was enacted.  The increased cov­er­age of anti-Semitism in these annual reports reflects a greater aware­ness of what anti-Semitism is and how it threat­ens human rights.  Indeed, the reports have grown increas­ingly atten­tive to the issue of how anti-Semitism in the pub­lic dis­course puts Jews at risk, as well as how hos­til­ity toward Israel and Jews is too fre­quently commingled.

The State Department’s Report details infringe­ments on human rights around the globe, includ­ing but not lim­ited to government-sponsored per­se­cu­tion, bias and big­oted por­trayal of minor­ity groups in the media, anti-Semitic inci­dents, attacks on the LGBT com­mu­nity, and the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties. Sec­re­tary Kerry high­lighted, in yesterday’s press con­fer­ence, the nearly 80 coun­tries that crim­i­nal­ize homo­sex­u­al­ity around the globe, and the strug­gle that those of the LGBT com­mu­nity face to sur­vive, even in coun­tries where homo­sex­u­al­ity is not criminalized.

This rou­tinized and required scrutiny of anti-Semitism and the full panoply of rights vio­la­tions is accom­pa­nied by increased aware­ness and enhanced engage­ment by America’s diplo­mats.  And we know that under­stand­ing the nature and mag­ni­tude of a prob­lem  is an essen­tial jump­ing off point for pre­ven­tion. When there is data, there is aware­ness; where there is aware­ness, there can be action.


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