Categorized | News


No I am not talking about Donald Sterling – although what Sterling (not a Southerner by the way – born in Chicago, Illinois!) said is all of that:  Appalling, outrageous and offensive.

No it’s this said by our President in Malaysia:

“I think the Prime Minister is the first to acknowledge that Malaysia’s still got some work to do. Just like the United States, by the way, has some work to do on these issues. Human Rights Watch probably has a list of things they think we should be doing as a government.”

I am not sure what is worse:  Apologizing and criticizing your nation’s human rights record in a foreign nation or giving credence to Human Rights Watch.

Here is the 2014 report on the United States from HRW.

Executive summary:

The United States has a vibrant civil society and media that enjoy strong constitutional protections. Yet its rights record is marred by abuses related to criminal justice, immigration, national security, and drug policy. Within these areas, victims are often the most vulnerable members of society: racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the elderly, the poor, and prisoners.

Here’s some highlights of the HRW report on our nation:

The US has the largest reported incarcerated population in the world, and by far the highest rate of imprisonment, holding 2.2 million people in adult prisons or jails as of year-end 2011.

Mass incarceration reflects three decades of harsh state and federal sentencing regimes, including increased use of life and life without parole sentences, high mandatory minimum sentences, and “three strikes” laws. The Sentencing Project reported that one in nine US prisoners are serving a life sentence.


In 2013, Maryland joined 17 other states and the District of Columbia in abolishing the death penalty, but 32 states still allow it. At time of writing, 34 people had been executed in the US in 2013.


Whites, African Americans, and Latinos have comparable rates of drug use but are arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for drug offenses at vastly different rates.


In recent decades the US has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to arrest and incarcerate drug offenders in the US. Its heavy reliance on criminal laws for drug control has had serious human rights costs, including infringement of the autonomy and privacy rights of those who simply possess or use drugs.


Poor defendants across the country languish in pretrial detention because they are too poor to post bail. The most recent data indicates 60 percent of jail inmates—at a cost of $9 billion a year—are confined pending trial, often because they lack the financial resources to secure their release.


The widespread practice of sentencing youth offenders to life without the possibility of parole is changing as states grapple with how to comply with recent US Supreme Court decisions. Separate decisions have held that the sentence cannot ever be mandatory for youth offenders, nor can it be imposed on youth offenders convicted of non-homicide crimes. The Supreme Court has not yet abolished application of the sentence to juveniles, however, and youth offenders continue to receive life without parole sentences for homicide crimes.


In 2013, after years of inaction, the US Congress began debating a major overhaul of the US immigration system. In June, the Senate passed a bill that would create a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants and allow for greater consideration of the right to family unity in some deportation decisions. If enacted into law, the bill would better align immigration enforcement and detention practices with human rights requirements, including eliminating a one-year filing deadline for asylum applicants, though it would continue to mandate the automatic deportation of noncitizens with criminal convictions, even for minor offenses.


At time of writing, the House of Representatives had not made any serious progress on comprehensive immigration reform.


Hundreds of thousands of children work on American farms. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act exempts child farmworkers from the minimum age and maximum hour requirements that apply to other working children.


Sixteen states have refused to expand Medicaid services under the Affordable Care Act, impeding the right to health for the poor, African Americans, and other groups with limited access to medical care.


Emergency contraception became available without a doctor’s prescription to customers of all ages in 2013. According to the Guttmacher Institute, states adopted 43 restrictions on access to abortion in the first half of 2013. These restrictions took a variety of forms, including requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals, that patients undergo pre-abortion ultrasounds, and banning abortion after a specified number of weeks since the woman’s last menstrual period.

In January 2013, the Department of Defense lifted a longstanding ban on women serving in direct combat roles.


In June, the US Supreme Court invalidated two of the most egregious anti-LGBT initiatives in the country. In United States v. Windsor, the court struck down section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited federal recognition of state-approved same-sex marriages. In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court dismissed an appeal by proponents of Proposition 8, a 2008 California state referendum that would have revoked the right of same-sex couples to marry. The court has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of state laws that prohibit same-sex marriage.


The indefinite detention without charge or trial of detainees at Guantanamo Bay entered its twelfth year, with 162 detainees remaining at the facility. Eighty-two of them have been cleared for transfer to home or third countries by an inter-agency task force since 2009.


Prosecutors filed charges against [Edward] Snowden under the Espionage Act. US law does not provide adequate legal protections or defenses for whistleblowers who disclose national security or intelligence information to the public, even on matters of pressing public importance. The Obama administration tried to block attempts by Snowden to obtain asylum in various countries. Snowden ultimately obtained temporary asylum in Russia.


In January, US lawmakers discussed whether to send military assistance to Syrian opposition forces in that country’s civil war. In February, the administration said that it would begin sending non-lethal aid, including food and medical supplies, to the opposition. In September, the US appeared ready to conduct strikes against Syria in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons near Damascus that killed more than 300 people. Obama had previously indicated that use of chemical weapons in Syria constituted a “red line” that would prompt US action in the conflict.

Obama sought congressional authorization for US military engagement in Syria, but a United Nations Security Council-supported agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control indefinitely delayed a congressional vote

Let’s see:  Human rights include amnesty, Obamacare, expansion of Medicaid(!), drug laws, ban on capital punishment (nothing in here commending the US for its elaborate system of protections for defendants including at least two appeals in capital cases and that these cases are reserved usually for willful, aggravated murder), an open Gitmo (No credit to former President George W. Bush for freeing most of the detainees at Gitmo, no in fact HRW wants Bush arrested!), intervention in Syria, gay marriage, women in combat, Edward Snowden, and finally the most ironic:  Abortion as a human right.  I laughed until I cried on that one.

Now in fairness, there are issues in the criminal justice system and in fact, we need better delivery of legal services to the poor and lower middle class.  And in fairness, there is room for disagreements on policy on some of these other issues.

But the HRW report reads like a manifesto of a progressive organization.  Not a human rights report.  I suggest the HRW stop calling liberal policies “human rights” and go concentrate on real human rights offenses in other nations first.  I repeat my call that members of HRW or Amnesty International who hold security clearances ought to be told:  Resign that membership immediately.

The House of Representatives ought to censure President Obama for his continued apologizing for his nation abroad.  Where’s the House Republicans when you really need them.  Censure is a political remedy.  To the extent the US “needs work” on human rights, maybe HRW ought to examine the IRS’ targeting of tea party and similar groups, the abuse of executive power and attacks on religious freedom.  I believe Presidents ought to say when asked abroad, “Human rights is an issue for all nations and we have a great record on liberty and human rights.  I am sure <whoever the leader is in that nation> and I will discuss a comprehensive range of issues, including human rights, but some of these discussions are not for the media or public.”  You can discuss issues frankly in private but not before the media.  An emphasis on human rights can be a form of meddling in the internal affairs of other nations.

Finally, can you imagine President John Bolton apologizing for the US in a foreign country or acknowledging HRW as an authority on human rights?  I didn’t think so.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

Sign up for Virginia Right Once Daily Email Digest

No Spam - ever! We send a daily email with the posts of the previous day. Unsubscribe at any time.
* = required field

Follow Us Anywhere!