Dec. 10: International Human Rights Day

“Workers’ Rights are Human Rights.” That is the slogan for AFL-CIO rallies, marches, and candlelight vigils across the nation Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day. It marks the 55th anniversary of the signing of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dec. 10, 1948.

Section 23, Article 4 of the Declaration states, “Everyone has the right to form and to join unions for the protection of his [or her] interests.” The AFL-CIO cites surveys that 40 million workers in the U.S. want to join unions but are blocked by employer intimidation, harassment, and coercion.

Born in the victory over Hitler fascism, the Human Rights Declaration is expansive in its vision of a just, humane, and peaceful world. While embracing civil liberties such as freedom of assembly and speech and the right to petition, it also upholds economic and social rights like the right to a job, education, medical care, food and shelter.

We should not be surprised that the Bush administration, which seized office in a virtual coup, says nothing about the UN Declaration of Human Rights. With its doctrine of unilateral, preemptive war, this administration has run roughshod over the United Nations. It also tramples on the Declaration with domestic policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. The Declaration upholds the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.” The Bush-Cheney gang, in its ruthless exercise of total power, defiles and insults the very declaration to which the U.S. is a signatory.

Section 21, Article 3 states: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote.” On Nov. 2, 2004, millions of voters can strike a blow for human rights by removing George W. Bush from office.

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Good riddance

The Department of Homeland Security announced Dec. 1 that it will terminate most of its draconian registration program, which requires male Arab and Muslim immigrants to submit to interrogation, fingerprinting, and photographing in the name of the “war on terrorism.”

Since Attorney General John Ashcroft unveiled the program in June 2002, 83,000 immigrant men were forced to re-register with INS and other federal law enforcement agencies. Not a single person was charged with any terrorist crime as a result of this dragnet. The ultra-right hatchet man, Asa Hutchinson, Homeland Security’s undersecretary for border and transportation security, applauded the Justice Department for initiating the program, but admitted that leads on terrorism “were minimal in number.”

More than 14,000 people were fingered for “overstaying their visas” and thousands have been detained incommunicado for months or were deported without the right of legal representation or a hearing. Many of those deported have jobs and families here in the U.S.

Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights put it best. “We’re glad that the Department of Homeland Security has seen the wisdom of suspending the program,” he said. “However, feeling glad about this is like being thankful to a bully after he has stopped hitting us. Much of the damage has already been done.”

This Ashcroft program was racial profiling on an enormous scale, singling people out because of their skin color, accent, or manner of dress. Deeply racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim, it has inflicted terrible injustice on the victims as well as on the Bill of Rights.

According to the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, which welcomed the termination announcement, there are still 13,000 foreign nationals in the United States affected by the program. ADC president and former Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar urged the government to continue to “correct problems associated with Special Registration” and stop plans to deport thousands more.

The democratic movements have to remain vigilant against the Bush administration policies of divide and conquer.