Picture: Jenny Chiang (front left), Jessica Wong (center), and Sheila Vo (front right) of Massachusetts’s Asian American Commission at a protest in front of the Statehouse in Boston on March 12, 2020. (Steven Senne/AP)
What is the most violated Human Right in America and how do we remedy this?
The right to be free from discrimination is a human right. As Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines, ‘’Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status’’ (United Nations). However, the ideal of Article 2 has yet to truly become a reality in many parts of the world, and the United States of America is no exception. Indeed, as far as at least the US is concerned, Article 2 may be the single most violated human right. In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police and the sexual harassment and assaults brought to light by the #MeToo movement – to name a few significant instances – it is transparent that bigotry is alive and well, with negative consequences for those at the receiving end (Hill, Tiefenthäler, Triebert, Jordan, Willis, and Stein 2020).
Why is Article 2 the most violated Human Right?
The examples of discrimination are but many. People of color in the US are disproportionately subject to exclusionary zoning laws, and consequently trapped in low-income neighborhoods with few opportunities and few prospects in later life (Chetty, Hendren, and Katz 2015; NCRC 2015). They face worse educational outcomes and school districts with far less funding than white people (Lombardo 2019; Rothwell 2012). Black men receive fewer job offers and callbacks than their white counterparts – even when the latter have a criminal record and the former don’t – and in areas where bigotry is more overt, have lower earnings to boot (Bertrand and Mullainathan 2003; Charles and Jonathan Guryan 2008; Devah 2003). Overt discrimination also continues to be a thing of the present. Anti-black discrimination still occurs in private and public spaces (ABC 2021; Shalby 2019; Lemon 2021). Instances of Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are still with us today, and Anti-Asian discrimination has risen noticeably following the spread of COVID-19 in the US, encompassing threats and acts of physical violence and harassment (Kang 2019; Otterman 2020; Ruiz, Edwards, and Lopez 2021). Discrimination against transgender people is not uncommon in workplaces or schools, with people refusing to use their preferred pronouns (Moreau 2019; Reilly 2019). Employees with disabilities face employers and workplaces that disregard their disabilities or use them as an excuse to penalize them (Jammaers and Zanoni 2020). Gendered discrimination also continues to be a thing of the present. Women are overwhelmingly likely to face gender discrimination compared to men at work, including sexual harassment and assault. Outside work, women also face sexual harassment while on the street (Parker and Funk 2017). The #MeToo movement – revolving around women who were sexually assaulted and harassed by men, both inside and outside Hollywood – has brought this issue to the forefront (Chicago Tribune 2021; Johnson, Keplinger, Kirk, and Barnes 2019).
How can we prevent this article from being violated in the future?
There are ways in which the US can combat discrimination. A potential model exists in Washington, DC, in the form of the DC Human Rights Act,which is enforced by the DC Office of Human Rights. The Act prohibits discrimination in its various forms – discrimination in housing, employment, and educational institutions – on the basis of 21 protected traits. These protected traits gained legal status as of October 1, 2019. District of Columbia is the only city in the United States that extends the protection against discrimination to 21 different reasons (DC Office of Human Rights).
These protected traits are: race, skin color, faith, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, family responsibilities, political affiliation, disabilities, matriculation, familial status, genetic information, source of income, place of residence or business, status as victim of an intrafamily offense, credit information, as well as status as a victim or family member of a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking. These protections apply to everyone within the District of Columbia, whether they reside there or not (DC Office of Human Rights). Last year, DC Attorney General Karl Racine filed three lawsuits – on the basis of enforcing the DC Human Rights Act, and the 21 traits specifically – against seven real estate companies and professionals (The DCLine 2020). In one lawsuit, a DC landlady was accused of making racist comments towards a potential tenant, while another alleges a property management company discriminated against a tenant with mobility issues. Racine has filed other lawsuits in the past against property managers, landlords, and realtors that wouldn’t sell to tenants on the basis of income source (District of Columbia vs Delwin Realty LLC et al HMP 2020, District of Columbia Vs. O-Shokunbi 2020).
Related to the 21 protected traits, DC also passed a historic law – the very first of its kind in America – to combat street harassment. The law, known as the Street Harassment Prevention Act of 2018 (SHPA), was passed in 2018. SHPA describes street harassment as “disrespectful, offensive or threatening statements, gestures or other conduct directed at an individual in a high-risk area without the individual’s consent and based on the individual’s actual or perceived… protected trait identified in the DC Human Rights Act of 1977” (Kearl 2018).
The SHPA, instead of focusing on criminalizing offenders, prioritizes prevention through education. The SHPA established the Advisory Committee on Street Harassment (ACSH), which has 16 official members and four subcommittees that meet regularly. ACSH proposes model policies and training programs for DC that have seven key components: code of conduct, defining street harassment, statement of confidentiality, reporting street harassment, responding to street harassment, resources, and training and awareness. In the fall of 2019, SHPA carried out a survey with responses from 1,621 DC residents as the result of ten two-hour focus groups with members of various vulnerable populations the Advisory Committee believed to experience greater levels of street harassment. These residents included religious minorities, homeless people, gender-nonconforming individuals, and sexual violence victims and survivors. The focus groups discussed participants’ experiences with street harassment, how it affected their lives, when and where they most commonly faced it, what would make them feel safer and better supported, and more. Based on the data collected, the SHPA made multiple recommendations to be implemented, including a portal for individuals to report harassment (DC Office of Human Rights 2020). Both in regards to the 21 protected traits and the SHPA more specifically, DC law offers a useful model to emulate when it comes to safeguarding human rights through countering discrimination and promoting education respectively.
How is USIDHR working to decrease the violation of article 2?
Multiple studies across various ages and geographic areas consistently prove human rights education and awareness promote supportive attitudes (Bajaj 2011; Bajaj et al 2017; Covell and Howe 1999). They also show human rights education has real and enduring benefits for those undergoing it, be it children or adults (Bajaj 2011). Human rights education goes a long way in helping children become better people. Children who have received such an education tend to address interpersonal problems from a human rights standpoint. Studies demonstrate that college students educated about human rights become more supportive of human rights, and that even teachers who tutor children in human rights themselves do so too (Covell, Howe, and McNeil 2010; Covell, O’Leary, and Howe 2002). Hence, the US Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights (USIDHR) works tirelessly to create the next generation of human rights consultants through our Human Rights Education Training program. These consultants are trained to be able to deliver workshops, seminars and provide educational support to schools, colleges, hospitals, and even businesses that can implement human rights throughout their activities. The self-paced 8-module certification training for human rights consultants gives the tools to educate others on how to advocate for the rights of themselves and others. If you’re interested in becoming part of the change, you can register for our training here (USIDHR).
This article found multiple examples of violations of Article 2 (the right to be free from discrimination) in the United States and deemed it the most violated human right nationally.
It also established that Washington, DC, offers a useful model through its Human Rights Act – specifically through the 21 protected traits and the Sexual Harassment Prevention and Awareness (SHPA) program – and concluded the best way to prevent and counter discrimination is education.
Discrimination is a human rights violation in the US – a pervasive one, even. However, human rights legislation and education can go a long way in combating and reducing bigotry in all its forms. Legislation can shine a light on discrimination and pave a clear path to tackle it, and education can empower people to know their rights and that of others so as to reduce unfavorable behavior on all sides (particularly if started from a young age). By taking these measures and ensuring we remain consistent in educating others on their rights, America can ensure the ideal of Article 2 becomes a reality.
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