Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wrong about human rights

by Roger Pilon

Philadelphia Inquirer
September 1, 2010

When we think of human-rights problems, most of us imagine arbitrary arrests, political repression, religious persecution, torture, show trials, censorship, and the like. In America, we don't often have those kinds of problems. Even the current controversy over an Islamic center near ground zero isn't about the right to build there; it's about the wisdom of doing so.

All of which made it surprising to learn from the Obama State Department that America does indeed have human-rights problems.

The news came last week in the form of our first report on U.S. human-rights conditions to the U.N. Human Rights Council, submitted pursuant to a U.N. mandate that members conduct self-assessments every four years. According to the State Department, we fall short on "fairness, equality, and dignity" in areas such as education, health, and housing, especially when it comes to women, blacks, Latinos, Muslims, South Asians, American Indians, and gay people.

On closer reading, however, the claimed "human rights" problems start to look dubious. Take the report's contention that "work remains to meet our goal of ensuring equality before the law" - a human right, to be sure. The supposed evidence is that unemployment is higher among blacks and Hispanics; there are racial and ethnic disparities in home ownership rates; and "whites are twice as likely as Native Americans to have a college degree." But those are socio-economic inequalities owing to many factors, not inequalities before the law.