The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Henderson: U.S. Must Honor Human Rights Obligations at Home

December 16, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, testified this morning before the Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights about how a greater U.S. commitment to its international human rights obligations can strengthen civil rights at home.

The U.S. is a party to U.N. treaties and resolutions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Henderson said that if Congress played a more active role in pushing the U.S. to honor its human rights obligations, then more progress could be made on a number of critical domestic civil rights issues, including:

  • eliminating racial disparities in our criminal justice system, particularly the 100 to 1 crack and powder cocaine disparity;
  • providing full voting representation in Congress for residents of Washington, D.C.;
  • reforming of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights;
  • strengthening the right to form unions; and
  • fulfilling U.S. obligations to indigenous people.

Henderson said that Congress has not done enough to ensure the United States lives up to its treaty obligations, which would require some legislative action on the issues he described.

"As we reclaim our leadership on human rights, our shortcomings at home are not only harmful, they also undermine our credibility with other nations – and, as they have in the past, they also serve as easy fodder for opponents who want to divert attention from even worse wrongdoings of their own," Henderson said.

Tom Perez, the new head of the Civil Rights Division, and Michael Posner, the State Department's assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, also testified at the hearing, explaining the Obama administration's renewed focus on meeting the nation's international human rights obligations. 

"Now, more than ever, the world needs the United States to once again be a human rights beacon. In the Civil Rights Division and in the Department of Justice generally, we are prepared to work with our colleagues at the State Department and across the Federal agencies to make sure that, consistent with the approach outlined by President Obama, we model at home the very human rights we seek to promote around the world," Perez said.

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