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The Ineptitude of the United States
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Those are the opening lines to the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence was written in 1776. Yet, slavery continued in the United States for nearly ninety years after this document declared that "all men where created equal," and those "unalienable rights" are still not shared by everyone in the United States. The U.S. has been lacking in its responsibility to its citizens. The state responsibility for human and civil rights must be expanded in the United States.
In December 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The thirty articles of the UDHR were developed to provide a clear definition of human rights. It then became the responsibility of the states of the United Nations to protect those rights. This is where the United States is lacking. The U.S. is one of the founding nations of the United Nations and one of the most influential, yet it has failed to take adequate state responsibility for human rights.
Before the ineptitude of the United States can be discussed, the concept of state responsibility for human and civil rights must be clearly defined. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines state as "a politically organized body of people usually occupying a definite territory," and responsibility as "moral, legal, or mental accountability." These definitions of state and responsibility can be interpreted and combined to provide a literal definition of state responsibility. The definition of state responsibility could then be seen as "the moral and legal accountability of a government." A concise notion of state responsibility for human and civil rights would then be congruent to "the moral and legal accountability of government for life, liberty, security, and any other finite right of a person."
With the concept of state responsibility for human and civil rights having been defined, the extent of state responsibility in the United States can be discussed. Rhonda Copelon once noted, "?the most limited conception of state responsibility [in the United States] has been essentially dismantled." Copelon also made a statement to the effect that rights in the U.S. are limited to constraints on government and that they do not reach private conduct or include the most basic social and economic needs.
Copelon sights the case of DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989) as an example of the limitation of rights because of the constraints of government. In the DeShaney case, a child was subject to a series of beatings by his father. Social Services stepped in and took various steps to protect the child; they did not, however, remove the child from his father?s custody. The father finally beat the child so severely that the child became mentally retarded. For the lack of prevention of the beatings, the mother of the child and the child filed suit against Social Services. The court ruled in favor of Social Services and sited that "private violence or other mishaps are not attributable to the conduct of its [i.e. state or local government] employees." Chief Justice Rehnquist established the ruling of the court better when he said, "[Nothing] in the language of the Due Process Clause itself requires the State to protect life, liberty and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors. The clause is phrased as a limitation on the State?s power to act, not as a guarantee of minimal levels of safety and security." What does this mean? It means that the law establishes the rights of citizens, but does not provide for a means of providing those rights. This is why Rhonda Copelon used negative as "a word that aptly describes the U.S. framework of civil rights and civil liberties in a number of ways: Rights are limited to constraints on government; they do not include the most basic social and economic needs?"
The United States has been lacking in other areas of state responsibility for human and civil rights. Racial discrimination has been a part of the U.S. since its origin. W. Haywood Burns once commented on the early legal status of black Americans in the U.S.:
"The legal issue of the status of black people in pre-Civil War America came to a head in
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