When I was 14 going on 15, I began researching Human Rights Law. It was a little thing at first, taking notes on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Then, the Geneva Convention and Protocols, finally stumbling my way through the International Covent on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Then, this year, the George Floyd protests happened. I was devastated. I tried to find a way to help that was more meaningful than signing petitions and posting endless things on my various social media. I knew that our government would end up being no help, so I turned to the international side of the law. I wanted to see if there was anything thing I could do. That somehow, we could go above our government’s head, so to speak, and force real change, in line with international law. I wanted to believe in something more.
Thus, I took to the wonderful resource of the UN’s website to read the laws themselves and that’s where I hit a snag in my plan. I found out that the United States had withdrawn us from most of the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, under President Reagan due to the 1986 case of United States vs. Nicaragua. In which, the ICJ held that the United States funded military and paramilitary rebellions in Nicaragua. We also are not a signatory party of the Rome Statute, which founded the International Criminal Court to prosecute the worst crimes known to humanity; genocide, crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. So, at this point, my plan was dead in the water, so I burst into tears. Imagine it, a 15-year-old girl sitting at her desk, head in her hands, computer open at two in the morning, crying over human rights. I’m sorry to say that that was not the first time, nor was it the last.
It makes sense in a way, however, because ever since I had just the inkling of an international system (about in 2016, A.K.A., the year it all went downhill) I had believed in a system that could protect us as human beings, in the ways that even the Constitution may not be able to. I believed that there was an organization that we could go to that could protect our rights from our worst-case scenarios, and I believed that there was an organization that could hold us accountable for the atrocities and for the horrors we were inflicting upon our own citizens. I was wrong, and I had a different view of the United Nations than a lot of Americans.
The United Nations is the butt of jokes around the globe, political comedians use it as a metaphor for ineffective bureaucracy, authoritarians around the world laugh at, and I saw a meme the other day that said, “‘Want to hear a joke? ‘Yeah?’ ‘the UN!’”. There wasn’t even a proper punchline!
This is how the United Nations is perceived by most Americans, ineffective, bureaucratic nightmare, the butt of objectively bad jokes, and something that authoritarians laugh at. It doesn’t have to be that way. (First, a little disclaimer, I am not a genius and I’m only 15, so please don’t expect me to come up with the solution to international cooperation. At least wait until I’m 25 until I have to deal with that doozy.) In my opinion, if the UN and its Courts were to be a strong arm of justice and the rule of law, countries would be more inclined (or forced) to comply with treaties and human rights. Which is a good thing, right? Because how can someone be against human rights and human rights treaties? It’s like the one thing everyone is supposed to agree on, correct?
It’s hard to simmer what I wanted this to be about into one single point, but I think that it can be summed up nicely by this one sentence that I have seen circulating its way through my social media; I don’t know how to tell you to care about other people. Because the need for a stronger international system is not a political one. It is about the very moral core of humanity as a whole.
And before I go, I want to pose you one last question, if Lady Justice took off her blindfold today would she be proud of what she saw, or would she lower her scales and use her sword the wrong way?