United Nations: Freedom of Speech Disappearing in Large Swaths of U.S., Other Human Rights Threatened

United Nations: Freedom of Speech Disappearing in Large Swaths of U.S., Other Human Rights Threatened

UN alarmed over human rights in the United States

The United Nations has expressed concern over the human rights situation in the United States. Nineteen states in the country introduced bills to curb freedom of expression as well as the right to protest. According to Reuters, U.N. human rights investigators have claimed the situation is part of an “alarming and undemocratic” trend, apparent since at least May 2015. Maina Kiai and David Kaye, independent U.N. experts on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, believe that these new bills violate human rights and have therefore sent a letter to U.S. officials raising their concern.

“The trend also threatens to jeopardize one of the United States’ constitutional pillars: free speech… From the Black Lives Matter movement, to the environmental and Native American movements in opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and the Women’s Marches, individuals and organizations across (American) society have mobilized in peaceful protests.”

The UN’s concerns are not unfounded. President Donald Trump and his relationship with the media has been difficult even before his election; and since the beginning of his presidency the antagonism between the two has risen with Trump calling prominent U.S. media stalwarts “fake news” and “the enemy of the American people”. Additionally, his new policies on immigration, climate change and several other topics have also sparked an increase in public protests, which have led to stricter laws in Republican-governed states such as Indiana, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Missouri. These bills are somehow finding a way to criminalize the rights of expression and protest.

As told by the Independent, Kaia and Kaye believe the goal is to discourage the further development of movements such as Black Lives Matter, and that there could be an excessive use of force and abuse of power from authorities.

“Since January 2017, a number of undemocratic bills have been proposed in state legislatures with the purpose or effect of criminalising peaceful protests. The bills, if enacted into law, would severely infringe upon the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in ways that are incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law and with First Amendment protections.”

For example, in the case of Missouri, a new bill proposed seven years of prison for the “unlawful obstruction of traffic”. In Indiana, enforcement officials will be allowed to use any means to clear obstructed roads. Peaceful protesters will be punished just for participating if a demonstration turns violent, according to a Minnesota bill. This is one of the most absurd proposals considering the fact that the individual decision of a person to act violently, should and must not be a factor against other people’s rights to express and protest.

Kaye and Kiai also believe the bills proposed in Colorado, North Dakota and Oklahoma specifically target opponents of the Dakota Access PipelineIn the cases of Florida and Tennessee, bills would exempt drivers from any liability if they ‘accidentally’ hit or even killed a pedestrian participating in a protest. Prison sentences are also accompanied by large fines such as the case of Iowa with five years in prison and a $7,500 fine.

“These state bills, with their criminalisation of assemblies, enhanced penalties and general stigmatisation of protesters, are designed to discourage the exercise of these fundamental rights… This right is not a collective right; it is held by each of us individually. Peaceful assembly is a fundamental right, not a privilege, and the government has no business imposing a general requirement that people get permission before exercising that right.”

Washington tends to frequently criticise other governments over their human rights situation; however, human rights is another topic in which the U.S. is losing international leadership and credibility. It is not surprising, then, why some are finding the traits of dictatorship and dysfunction in this new America.

Featured image via Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images News

From Mexico City, Carolina has lived in five different countries, experiences she defines as the most enriching. She has focused her studies and work on international conflicts and international security issues, diplomacy and protocol. Carolina holds two MA degrees and hopes to begin her PhD studies soon.

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From Mexico City, Carolina has lived in five different countries, experiences she defines as the most enriching. She has focused her studies and work on international conflicts and international security issues, diplomacy and protocol. Carolina holds two MA degrees and hopes to begin her PhD studies soon.

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