Human Rights Violations » ADL Blogs
Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights Violations’
July 3, 2015

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

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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