Speech for the Anti-War Committee's Human Rights Day Protest

by Jess Sundin on 12/08/12

No government is legally bound to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but as people of conscience, we are bound by it. Here in the heart of the empire, we have to build an anti-war movement that demands respect for human rights.

US wars are an affront to human rights. These wars kill thousands and thousands of people, destroy whole cities, wipe out infrastructure needed for survival, and poison the environment for generations to come. There is no freedom under occupation, when people are ruled by regimes that serve foreign interests. Assassinations – carried out by drones, Marines and the CIA – ignore the rule of law.  Military aid to brutal regimes puts the blood of countless Colombians, Palestinians and others on American hands. Human rights are not won by military intervention. Just the opposite.

Human rights are no excuse for war, and should never serve as a stick to beat other nations with. When war makers propose “humanitarian” intervention, we have to look for the real interests of imperialism in the conflict. The US is not neutral. Our rulers want to expand their economic, military and political power across the globe.

With war or sanctions, the US is not looking to liberate the peoples of Iran and Syria, any more than it was doing this in Viet Nam and Iraq. These countries are targets because they assert their independence from the will of Washington. Just as human rights are founded on respect for human dignity and equality, the anti-war movement must found itself on respecting the dignity and equality of nations, upholding the right to self-determination.

Even as the Egyptian people amassed in Tahrir Square, the US supported President Mubarak, because he helped them protect Israel. The same with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, where human rights abuses are off the charts. So long as their governments follow the US wishes, there will be no talk of “humanitarian” intervention.

The ultimate example is Israel, where illegal settlements, assassinations, the apartheid wall, the siege of Gaza, the denial of the right of return, are all ignored by Washington. No Israeli crime against Palestine is challenged by the US, whose standing in the region depends on Israel. The US is not concerned about human rights. The US seeks only to maintain its own power.

The US government can never be a champion of human rights. More than half the world has abolished the death penalty, while here, the Supreme Court upholds the murder of innocent men like Troy Davis. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world, and most of these prisoners are Black and Latino. Some are held under torturous conditions of solitary confinement, like Bradley Manning. There is no respect for human rights in murder, racism and torture.

Political freedoms are also protected in the Universal Declaration, but not respected in the US. Even the Anti-War Committee became targets, our work criminalized, by FBI raids and a grand jury investigation.

According the UN, “human rights – the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to peaceful assembly & association & to take part in government …have been at the centre of the historic changes in the Arab world over the past two years, in which millions have taken to the streets to demand change. In other parts of the world, the “99%” made their voices heard through the global Occupy movement protesting economic, political & social inequality.”

This statement points out an important truth: Human rights, and any real social change, can only be won by people’s movements. US intervention stands in the way of real justice in some places, while destroying it outright in others. As an anti-war movement in the US, we must build a movement that stands in solidarity with the peoples of the world, in their struggles for liberation, and against every war for empire.