On December 10, Human Rights Day is celebrated to mark the day that the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Following the devastation of World War II and spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt, this was the first international treaty to clearly delineate the rights that all humans should possess. The United States signed and ratified this treaty, but we are far from fulfilling its vision. We must do more.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that all people have what are considered ‘positive rights,’ or rights that require action to fulfill them. For example, the UDHR specifies rights to education, housing, food, health care, a job and even leisure time. It is designed so that all people have the right to reach their full potential. It is the duty of government to create policies that do the best to meet and protect these rights.
Sadly, in the United States, these positive rights are not being met; and in fact, they are being eroded. This is due to increasing privatization of services such as education and health care which treats them as a luxury rather than a public good, something that we all need.
The right to education is being removed through the opening of charter schools and closing of open enrollment schools. Rising tuition for higher education makes it out of reach for many people. Access to health care is being degraded through rising out of pocket costs that make basic care unaffordable. Predatory lending institutions are foreclosing on and evicting families often based on fraudulent information created by the banks. Renters are priced out of their homes and are being evicted without adequate legal representation. The right to a job with a living wage has been taken away in the war on worker rights including the right to form a union.
It is important to celebrate the UDHR, but we must do more than that. The UDHR created a vision but lacked legal mechanisms to enforce it. To correct that, in 1966, two more treaties were passed in the United Nations: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The United States ratified the ICCPR in 1992, but with so many restrictions on it that it is virtually meaningless. The United States has not yet ratified the ICESCR.
Without these two international covenants, people living in the United States lack legal recourse to protect our basic human rights. It is critical that each of us understand that we possess these rights, that these rights are being abused and that we must organize to demand that our rights are respected.
As a Senator, I will work to push for the legal framework that we need to fulfill and defend our basic human rights. With systems in place that provide what is needed for each of us to reach our full potential, we will be a healthier and stronger society. By meeting our human rights, we will enjoy peace and security that are currently threatened by growing inequality.