Inspired by Karl Rove…

As one journalist states – and I agree – “…the United States of America has the moral duty and legal obligation to go after each and every one of those involved in the illegal acts of butchery in Afghanistan and Iraq, following up and holding them responsible for the consequences of these acts and holding accountable each and every person involved in the decision-making process, however high their position in the pyramid may have been.” The notion of command responsibility seems conveniently absent from the minds of American policy-makers. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, “a wall of impunity surrounds the architects of the policies responsible for the larger pattern of abuses.”

Ah. Let us take a moment to re-read that last sentence. This time focus on the word “architect”. Architect…perhaps as in, Karl Rove, widely known as “The Architect” for Bush’s reelection and subsequent policies? 

This past Tuesday, amidst ten-foot high inflatable rats and protesters armed with megaphones, Karl Rove came to Oberlin College. My school (which, as one college review website explains, puts the “liberal” in liberal arts) was predictably outraged by the presence of someone widely accused of being a war criminal. Is Karl Rove a war criminal? I don’t know, and it’s not my job to decide, but why hasn’t the US government itself looked into this? Moreover, one failed citizen’s arrest and a week later, Rove’s visit has presented me with a broader question: how does the United States deal domestically with international violations of human rights?

Consider two points:

  1. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which entered into force in 1976, recognizes the “inherent dignity” and the “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” as the “foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world” and asserts that “the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social, and cultural rights…”
  2. Article VI, the Supremacy Clause of the American constitution, states: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land…”

The United States ratified the ICCPR in 1992, so, based on the above points, respect for the inherent dignity of all human beings and an obligation to provide civil and political rights to all people should be the supreme law of the land, correct? Nope. In the US reservations, declarations, and understanding, the Senate proclaimed Articles 1 through 27 non self-executing, which means that they would require implementing legislation to be considered binding domestic law. The US Supreme Court affirmed this interpretation of “non self-executing” in Medellin v. Texas (2008) in its majority decision: “While a treaty may constitute an international commitment, it is not binding domestic law unless Congress has enacted statutes implementing it or the treaty itself conveys an intention that it be “self-executing” and is ratified on that basis”. Has Congress done this? Take a wild guess. Nope, again. So now, we have an ICCPR that, at most, may be considered an international commitment. What’s that mean for the US if it violates this “commitment”? In effect, nothing. (Take a look at Steve Vladek’s post at Opinio Juris for an interesting look at non self-executing treaties).

Let’s pretend State X submits to the International Court of Justice a complaint against the US for failing to comply with provisions of the ICCPR. Great: Under Article 36(1) of the Statute of the ICJ, the Court has jurisdiction over treaty disputes…except that the US revoked its recognition of automatic ICJ jurisdiction after losing Nicaragua v US (1986), and, also stated in Medellin, ICJ decisions are not considered binding international law by the US. Even if this weren’t the case, lack of compliance with an ICJ decision is taken to the United Nations Security Council for enforcement, so the US could simply exercise veto power.

The US has long supported the development of treaties dealing with human rights and routinely presses other states to ratify and abide by them, but is consistently averse to international scrutiny of its own human rights practices (Dunoff, Ratner, Wippman, International Law: Norms, Actors, Process, p 473).

In a world that’s becoming increasingly more interconnected, America seems embarrassingly reluctant to embrace the era of globalization. I’m not going to go on an anti-US rant here (that horse is already dead and beaten to a bloody pulp), but I am, under my First Amendment rights, going to go on the record as questioning my country’s practices. I am sick and tired of having to defend myself for being American (I wasn’t even old enough to vote when Bush ran for office), so please, America make my life easier, and start practicing what you preach.


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