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Human rights under a Donald Trump

Published St. Louis American, December 20, 2016

On December 10, there was a global celebration of human rights. Locally, the St. Louis Coalition for Human Rights recognized its 20th anniversary. This is the day that the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. We have a president charging into the White House who already has an established record of human rights abuses. And if we are to believe some of his campaign promises, there are more violations to come.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, commonly referred to as the UDHR, consists of 30 articles affecting our quality of life. It is arguably the most important document of the 20th Century in that, for the first time, a standard was set for all peoples and all nations of the world. You are eligible for human rights the second you come into the world, no matter where you are in the world. Nobody can take them from you or pick and choose which ones you get.

In my travels over the years, citizens in other countries often refer to human rights rather than to laws. That’s because laws can change at any time because of political winds. In the U.S., African Americans are very familiar with this phenomenon as we are still waging the fight for voting rights.

Governments are responsible for protecting human rights, regardless of whether it’s a citizen of their own country or another. Like most documents of this nature, protection of these rights is a challenge. A country referring to itself as a democracy (like the U.S.) is just as capable of abusing human rights as authoritarian government.

Let’s look at where the big violations by a President Trump are likely to occur.

Article 23 is the “Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions.” I interpret “desirable” to be safe jobs with livable wages which dovetails into Article 25, the “Right to Adequate Standard of Living.” Trump has brought a heavy hand down on union organizing. In Las Vegas, where most casinos and hotels are unionized as a routine matter, he fought the Culinary Workers Union (CWU) and the Bartenders Union tooth-and-nail at the Trump International Hotel. The CWU is the Nevada’s largest union with 57,000 members; you don’t wanna mess with them. Ultimately, the workers triumphed and won their contract. Trump drug out a lawsuit for 20 years before admitting that undocumented Polish immigrants were used in his New York demolition project. Contractors have claimed to have a rough time getting paid by the billionaire. Trump’s trade agreements and hostile views towards workers are likely to have damaging impacts in other countries.

Article 20 is the “Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association,” which is also reflected in our First Amendment rights. We saw how Trump and his campaign dealt with dissent and assembly at his events. He created a hostile environment during his campaign events, often encouraging his supporters to get physical and vowing to pay their legal costs if they sucker-punched a protestor. Trump even stated that during an event that he’d like to “punch a protestor in the face.” The Southern Poverty Law Center recorded over 1,000 hate-motivated crimes in the month since Trump was elected. Hate against women, Muslim, people of color, members of the LGBT community – making America “great” again apparently doesn’t include these constituencies. We can expect to see vicious crackdowns on peaceful assemblies, including on the impending alternative demonstration to the Women’s March on Washington next month. If Jeff Sessions is confirmed as U.S. attorney general, we should anticipate plenty of attacks on civil liberties and human rights.

Article 13 is the “Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country” and has already received a verbal blow as Trump talks about building a wall along the Mexican border. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto emphatically says no pesos will go towards building Trump’s wall. During the campaign, Trump promised a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims coming to the U.S. His get-tough policy on radical Islam also criminalizes Muslims, treating them all as terrorists which makes them susceptible to torture (which Trump favors). Freedom for torture and degrading treatment is Article 5 but it’s also a violation of international law.

The United Nations has expressed its uneasiness about the Trump presidency. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein summed up Trump’s right-wing rhetoric and proclaimed that he would be “dangerous from an international point of view.“ Zeid, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights, also took note of the countries with human rights abuses who welcomed the election of Trump, countries like Russian, Syria and Turkey.

Freedom-loving people in the U.S. must be ready to confront the inhumane policies and vile rhetoric of the new president. We know there are allies around the world to join with us. We must be ready to disrupt the flow of business that will assuredly lead to the rich getting richer and the rest of us getting a proverbial foot on our necks. Stopping the steamroller of demagoguery and white supremacy resolutely begins here on these shores.


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