Public Comment

The Declaration is The Law

By Ann Fagan Ginger
Thursday December 04, 2008 - 10:00:00 AM

Probably more people in Berkeley and the Bay Area will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10 than in most other communities in the United States. Many of us spend some time every month working for human rights in the United States or somewhere in the world. Many of us have complained that the United States does not live up to the Universal Declaration, even though Eleanor Roosevelt played such an important role in getting it set down in print. Even in Berkeley relatively few folks have learned from lecturers that the declaration was a declaration, and was not The Law. 

Only a small number have heard the good news: the articles in the declaration have become law by being written into treaties the United States has ratified, since, under the Constitution, a treaty is the supreme law of the land. 

So, on Dec. 10, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Is the Law” will be issued by Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute. This small book is A Guide to U.D.H.R. Articles in Treaties Ratified by the U.S. 

Daily Planet readers will be interested to learn that all 30 of the rights and duties in the declaration are now part of U.S. law because they are in three treaties the United States ratified in 1992 and 1994. This book is the first effort to print each article in the declaration followed by the specific language repeating that phrase or concept in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Convention Against Torture (ICAT), and the International Convention on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). 

Many people working for U.S. ratification of the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRD) will find in this book which articles in the Universal Declaration are now in these two treaties the United States has signed but not yet ratified. And I explained in the introduction that a treaty that has been signed is not supposed to be violated by the signing nation, even before it is ratified and can be affirmatively enforced. 

The New New Deal folks sent me a copy of Franklin Roosevelt’s proposed Second Bill of (Economic) Rights and it is so timely today I put it in the appendix, with its clear list of rights: the right to food, housing, medical care, and the right to work. The basic articles in the very early Code of Hammurabi of 1760 B.C. are also in the appendix, along with Magna Carta of 1215, and the basic English and French human rights declarations. We also included the little known (in the United States) Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights of 1981, with its specific declaration of some rights of women and of married women. 

William Monning, the newly elected Assembly member representing Santa Cruz County, writes that he “will carry in my pocket ‘The Universal Declaration Is the Law’ [to] serve as a critical guide to help me identify the language of treaties ratified by the United States that contain specific rights declared in the U.D.H.R.” And Arkansas Assembly member Lindsley Smith says, “This book will be a useful tool to strengthen enforcement of human rights in the United States.” Social justice activists and lawyers have told me they will start using this book, including Legal Services attorney Stephen Bingham, National Lawyers Guild former president John Brittain, and the Unitarian Universalist UN Office executive director Bruce F. Knotts. 

I will be talking about the book at the Gray Panthers Dec. 10 event at the North Berkeley Senior Center (1:30-3:30 p.m.) and at the UNA celebration at International House UC-Berkeley campus (noon-2 p.m.). 

I would be glad to try to answer any questions about the UDHR and The Law by e-mail, phone or fax, and to get together with others concerned about human rights in 2009.  


Ann Fagan Ginger is a the executive director of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute.