Under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the United States for the first time joined the U.N.'s Human Rights Council. The U.S. has long steered clear of this council, reluctant to participate in a "human rights" body that despots like Syria and Libya routinely chair.
But Obama brought the U.S. under the council's jurisdiction, and this week his administration submitted for the first time a review of the human rights situation in the U.S. to the council. Many have criticized it for sounding too apologetic about Americans' human rights record.
It is a very revealing document, though, especially on the core question: What counts as a basic human right?
To the American ear, long-schooled to recognize rights as individual freedoms guaranteed by government, not goodies subsidized by taxpayers, the oddest note is the long paean to Obamacare in the middle of this official report on alleged human rights:
"On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. The Act makes great strides toward the goal that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care. ... The law will also help our nation reduce disparities and discrimination in access to care that have contributed to poor health. For example, African Americans are 29 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. Asian American men suffer from stomach cancer 114 percent more often than non-Hispanic white men. ... The Act will reduce disparities like these through access to preventive services; investment in chronic disease control and prevention; enhanced data collection."
Does the president really believe that Obamacare is a basic human right? If a new Congress retools this deeply unpopular bill, does he suggest to the council we are now violating international human rights standards?
To be fair, the State Department account of Obamacare as a "human rights" advance is perfectly consistent with the way the U.N. Human Rights Council thinks about human rights. On Feb. 12 of this year, for example, a special reporter to the Human Rights Council issued her own report on how the U.S. can better meet alleged international human rights standards in housing. (See the full report here:
The report recommends, well, more democratic socialism, less Republican free-market values.
More scarce taxpayer money for subsidized housing? That's a human rights given. But the list of remedies grows longer. The report laments that "housing discrimination by income" is permitted in most places in America; it urges Congress to force private landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers, and also urges Congress to give Section 8 tenants and city governments a right of first refusal in the sale of rental properties occupied by subsidized tenants. (This of course would also mean subsidized tenants and governments would acquire a quasi-ownership right over virtually all private rental property, potentially tying up owners of rental properties for years in expensive litigation if they wish to sell.)
The report also suggested that Congress forbid the use of criminal records or drug tests to screen tenants for subsidized housing. Government should also "expand the definition of homelessness" to include people living with their family when times are hard. And she even urges our government to recognize the right of vagrants to camp out in public parks and streets, whenever "shelter is not available." San Francisco values anyone? The proposal by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., to establish a special federal right to "adequate housing" for children is warmly applauded -- only the report also urges expanding the definition of "child" up to age 25, since many young adults are still youths, "psychosocially" speaking.
Some or all of these proposals may be debatable as matters of public policy. But the point is that the busybodies at the U.N. Human Rights Council would like to transform public policy debates into human rights imperatives, subject to the scrutiny of international organizations like themselves. The report's final, most urgent recommendation is that the U.S. sign onto the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is a brief for a socialized democratic form of government over the American Founders' vision of freedom.