Document - USA: Normalizing delay, perpetuating injustice, undermining the 'rules of the road'
Adherence to international human rights must be central to security strategy
And we reject the notion that lasting security and prosperity can be found by turning away from universal rights… our support for universal rights is both fundamental to American leadership and a source of our strength in the world.
President Barack Obama, National Security Strategy, May 2010
Acting to give real meaning to words could be said to be at the heart of the human rights project begun in 1948. Adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 62 years ago, the international community pointed to its text as a “common standard” – not for mere recitation, but for actual “achievement”. Fulfilling, not simply repeating, the words of the Universal Declaration was, and must still be, the aspiration “for all peoples and all nations” as the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
The USA has long displayed a particular fluency in the language of human rights, but its own actions, often couched in terms of domestic values, have frequently fallen short of its international obligations. This unfortunately remains the case today in respect of detentions, trials, accountability and remedy in the counter-terrorism context.
In the National Security Strategies issued under President George W. Bush in 2002 and 2006, the USA promised to champion the “non-negotiable demands of human dignity”, including the “rule of law” and “equal justice”, even as it sought to keep detainees it labelled as “enemy combatants” in a global “war on terror” from judicial supervision and pursued interrogation techniques and detention conditions that violated the international prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.1Clearly the administration considered “human dignity” during this period to mean something quite different from the understanding most governments around the world, including many of the USA’s closest international partners, and international human rights bodies, had held for decades.