June 10

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Black Lives Matter: This Is About Human Rights, Not Politics

In a group I’m in, someone who lives outside the US mentioned that the debate about race that’s currently happening in this country is “politics.”

Let’s explore this.

Many topics are political and the US is a hyper-political society. It’s much more political than any other place I’ve lived in… and I’ve lived in 8 countries on three continents. Sometimes I find it exhausting, to be honest.

Because things in the US are so political, it might seem like the Black Lives Matter movement and the current protests are political in nature…but I don’t think that’s right.

Politics is about controversy and it’s okay to have different opinions about political issues, for instance about what should be done about the deficit.

We can have different perspectives about it, we can fervently disagree with each other, and it doesn’t make either of us bad people.

Human rights are different.

There is nothing that should be controversial about a statement such as “Stop killing black people” or “Black Lives Matter."

As someone who received her Ph.D. from what’s arguably the world’s oldest university institute in international law, let me try to summarize the human rights situation in six sentences (and one quote):

Everyone has a right to life.

This is guaranteed in multiple international human rights treaties, such as in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Paragraph 1 of this article states:

Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.

Art. 26 of the same treaty prohibits discrimination on the basis of race.

The US has ratified this and is bound by it.

Given the numbers on police violence (such as black people being 3x more likely to be killed by police than white people), it’s pretty obvious that the US is in violation of that.

None of this should be controversial. That it is controversial reflects badly on those people in the US who disagree with it, not on the fact that it’s a human rights issue.

So while the solutions to that problem might be political questions (“What’s the best way to achieve that aim?”), the societal issue itself is a human rights issue.

And that matters because, as Nelson Mandela put it: 

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

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