One Human Right at a Time?

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Yesterday, I read that the United Kingdom was dropping its only remaining objections to the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, bringing its child immigration policy up to the standards of this fundamental human rights text. From a quick look through the FAQs section on the website of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF, the organization that spearheads efforts to implement the Convention), I made the unfortunate discovery that the UK was not the only one not to have fully adopted this treaty.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. Only two countries, Somalia and the United States, have not ratified this celebrated agreement. Somalia is currently unable to proceed to ratification as it has no recognized government. By signing the Convention, the United States has signalled its intention to ratify–but has yet to do so.

Somalia? The U.S. government may have its foibles, but it is at least a functioning, recognized government. Sadly, the explanation for the U.S. “delay” in ratification is even more galling.

[T]he US Government typically will consider only one human rights treaty at a time. Currently, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is cited as the nation’s top priority among human rights treaties.

If supporting human rights for different segments of the population has to be prioritized, then these priorities are in need of serious recalibration. They are also clearly in need of a boost, as neither treaty has yet been ratified, putting the United States in a rather ignominious position on the world stage.

Washington has made many legitimate criticisms of the UN Human Rights Council, calling on the body not to shy away from real human rights crises. Surely, the need to uphold the basic human rights of women and children fits under this category, and the United States could signal a more honest commitment to human rights around the world by putting these two treaties into practice. With human rights conventions and the Human Rights Council alike, engagement, not estrangement, will accomplish far more in both defending human rights and ensuring that every country plays by the rules.