Human Rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings are entitled, like civil and political rights, the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and speech/expression, equality before the law, social, cultural and economic rights, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to education. In short, human rights are freedoms established by custom or international agreement that protect the interests of humans and the conduct of governments in every nation.
Human rights are distinct from civil liberties, which are freedoms established by the law of a particular state and applied by that state in its own jurisdiction.
Human rights laws have been defined by international conventions, by treaties, and by organizations, particularly the United Nations. These laws prohibit practices such as torture, slavery, summary execution without trial, and arbitrary detention or exile. Many human rights are secured by agreements between the governments and those they govern, such as the U.S. Constitution. Others are protected by international laws and pressure.
For more information on Human Rights laws, please refer to the materials below. Additionally, should you need the assistance of a human rights attorney, you may find lists of legal professionals on website HG.org
Know Your Rights!
The Rule of Law Initiative is a public service project of the American Bar Association dedicated to promoting rule of law around the world. The Rule of Law Initiative believes that rule of law promotion is the most effective long-term antidote to the pressing problems facing the world community today, including poverty, economic stagnation, and conflict.
Created in 1966, the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities provides leadership within the ABA and the legal profession in protecting and advancing human rights, civil liberties, and social justice. The Section fulfills this role by 1) raising and addressing often complex and difficult civil rights and civil liberties issues in a changing and diverse society, and 2) ensuring that protection of individual rights remains a focus of legal and policy decisions.
Promoting freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world are central to U.S. foreign policy. The values captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other global and regional commitments are consistent with the values upon which the United States was founded centuries ago.
The human rights record of the United States is a controversial and complex issue. The United States has been praised for its progressive human rights record by international watchdog organizations and is considered to be among the world's most free nations, although it has faced some criticism for certain policies and practices.
Human Rights First - Law and Security Program
Human Rights First promotes national security policies that respect human rights, focusing primarily on U.S. counterterrorism measures. The Law and Security program works to bring government counterterrorism and related national security efforts into compliance with international humanitarian law (laws of armed conflict) and human rights law.
Human Rights USA
Human Rights USA is dedicated to preventing torture and other major human rights abuses through bold and innovative litigation in U.S. courts. What sets us apart from other human rights groups is that we focus primarily on the United States’ compliance with international human rights norms, using litigation as the primary tool for securing compliance and for bringing public attention to these problems.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) - Charters of Freedom
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper. Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the United States Federal government, only 1%-3% are so important for legal or historical reasons that they are kept by us forever.
The USA and Human Rights
The leaders of the United States of America are proud to present the picture of being the foremost bearers of human rights. Yet, they have often been heavily criticized for advancing their own interests and of double standards.
US Department of State - Human Rights
The protection of fundamental human rights was a foundation stone in the establishment of the United States over 200 years ago. Since then, a central goal of U.S. foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States understands that the existence of human rights helps secure the peace, deter aggression, promote the rule of law, combat crime and corruption, strengthen democracies, and prevent humanitarian crises.
US Human Rights Network
Underlying all human rights work in the United States is a commitment to challenge the belief that the United States is inherently superior to other countries of the world, and that neither the US government nor the US rights movements have anything to gain from the domestic application of human rights.
Human rights are distinct from civil liberties, which are freedoms established by the law of a particular state and applied by that state in its own jurisdiction.
What are the universal human rights? - Benedetta Berti
American Association of Retired Persons - The AARP is a non-profit advocacy group working to support the rights of individuals age 50 and older.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) - A non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the individual rights and liberties provided under the Constitution.
Asian Law Caucus - The nation’s first legal and civil rights organization serving the low-income Asian Pacific American communities
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund - A national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian
Center for Fair Voting and Democracy - A non-profit group that advocates for electoral reform and voting rights.
Civil Rights Project - UCLA (was Harvard University) - A group dedicated to researching issues of civil rights and equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.
CivilRights.org - A non-profit organization working to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all individuals in the U.S.
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund - The oldest and largest national legal organization working to achieve equal rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people.
League of Women Voters of the U.S. - A group dedicated to improving government and engagging all citizens in the decision-making process.
Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund - One of the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organizations.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) - A group dedicated to eliminating race-based discrimination and ensuring equality in all areas of American life.
National Organization for Women - A non-profit organization dedicated to achieving women's equality.
Southern Poverty Law Center - A nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and seeking justice for vulnerable members of society.
Contact your local FBI field office to report incidents of:
Excessive force or other Constitutional violations by persons acting as law enforcement officials or public officials;
Human trafficking and involuntary servitude;
Force, threats, or physical obstruction to interfere with access to reproductive health care services;
Force or threats to interfere with the exercise of religious beliefs and destruction, defacing, or damage of religious property; or,
Force or threats to interfere with the right to vote based on race, color, national origin, or religion.
You can find your local office here:
Please include as many details of the incident as possible, such as the dates and times; names of possible witnesses; and supporting documents, such as police and medical reports, or photographs.
You may also mail a written copy of the complaint and materials you submitted to the FBI to the Criminal Section at:
US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Civil Rights Division
Criminal Section â PHB
Washington, DC 20530
By ADAM LIPTAKSEPT. 7, 2011
There is a place for alarmism when threats to civil liberties are concerned. Too much worry about our freedoms is better than too little, particularly in the face of a government shrouded in wartime secrecy after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But there is also a place, a decade later, for sober reflection. By historic standards, the domestic legal response to 9/11 gave rise to civil liberties tremors, not earthquakes. And even those changes were largely a result of reordered law enforcement priorities rather than fundamental shifts in the law.
Consider the USA Patriot Act, which was short for this Orwellian mouthful: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. The law, more than 300 pages long, sailed through Congress seven weeks after the attacks with scant dissent. It quickly became a sort of shorthand for government abuse and overreaching.
The 9/11 Decade: The 9/11 Decade: Fortress D.C.SEPT. 7, 2011
The Patriot Act undeniably expanded the government’s surveillance powers and the scope of some criminal laws. But this was, in truth, tinkering at the margins and nothing compared with the responses of other developed democracies, where preventive detention and limitations on subversive speech became commonplace.
“In comparative perspective, the Patriot Act appears mundane and mild,” Kent Roach, a law professor at the University of Toronto, writes in a new book, “The 9/11 Effect: Comparative Counter-Terrorism.”
The story is different as one moves beyond domestic criminal law. Detentions at Guantánamo Bay, extraordinary renditions and brutal interrogations all tested the limits of the appropriate exercise of government power in wartime. The American government held people without charge for almost a decade, engaged in torture as that term is understood in international law, and sent people abroad for questioning to countries known to engage in what everyone must agree is torture.
But criminal law itself changed surprisingly little in the wake of the attacks. What did change was how law enforcement conceived its mission.
Almost immediately after the attacks, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft announced “a new paradigm.” Preventing terrorist acts, he said, was now more important than punishing crimes after the fact. There were echoes here of “Minority Report,” the 1956 Philip K. Dick story (and 2002 movie) that depicted a world in which the police catch criminals before they can act, based on their thoughts rather than their actions.
The new paradigm encouraged the arrests of people thought to be dangerous for, as Mr. Ashcroft put it, “spitting on the sidewalk,” or for immigration offenses, or as material witnesses. It increased surveillance of religious and dissident groups. It ramped up the use of a law barring even benign support for organizations said to engage in terrorism, putting pressure on activities long thought to be protected by the First Amendment. And it inserted informants into Muslim communities, giving rise to a culture of suspicion and charges of entrapment.
The number of people directly affected by these changes was, in the greater scheme of things, small. The indirect chilling effect on free speech, association rights and religious freedom was impossible to measure. But by the standards of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Palmer raids of 1920, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the McCarthy era, the contraction of domestic civil liberties in the last decade was minor.
Arrest Early, Charge Broadl
As they generally have in the past, the courts acquiesced in the government’s efforts to combat terrorism. True, the Supreme Court placed some limits on the executive branch’s ability to hold prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. But decisions in criminal and immigration cases tell a different story.
“The courts have been failing terribly,” said Susan N. Herman, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union and the author of “Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy,” which will be published in October.
The Supreme Court, she said, routinely refuses to hear cases in which lower courts uphold the government’s position in cases involving national security. “They’re not interested in civil liberties challenges,” she said of the justices. “They’re only interested when the government loses.”
The goal of stopping terrorism before it happens caused federal law enforcement officials to make early arrests and then to rely on charges that required little proof of concrete conduct. Prosecutors often charged defendants accused of involvement in terrorism with conspiracy or “material support” of groups said to engage in terrorism.
Those laws were already in place, said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at the University of Texas. “The difference is,” he said, “they just weren’t being used.”
After the Sept. 11 attacks, things changed. In just the first five years, prosecutors charged more than 100 people with providing material support to terrorist groups. That support often took tangible form, like providing weapons, and it generally seemed directly linked to the advancement of violent ends.
But some prosecutions were based on sending money to groups that engaged in both humanitarian work and violence. And last year, in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the Supreme Court ruled that it could also be a serious felony merely to urge terrorist groups to use peaceful means to resolve disputes. Such speech, the court said, amounted to material support and could be made criminal notwithstanding the protections of the First Amendment.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, stressed that the material-support law applied only to speech directed by or coordinated with terrorist groups. People “may say anything they wish on any topic” without running afoul of the law, the chief justice said, so long as they are speaking independently.
Aggressive use of material support and similar laws, critics responded, chipped away at two principles that had been thought settled for about half a century. One was that mere membership in a subversive organization cannot be made a crime. The other is that the abstract advocacy of even the violent overthrow of the government must be tolerated under the First Amendment.
The Humanitarian Law Project decision “is akin to the kind of criminalization in the McCarthy era of speech and guilt by association,” said David D. Cole, a law professor at Georgetown who represented the challengers in the Humanitarian Law Project case as a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
A second law already on the books, this one allowing the arrest and detention of material witnesses — people said to have evidence of others’ crimes — was misused, critics say, as a shadow preventive detention regime. Instead of using the law to make sure people with information about the wrongdoing of others would turn up to testify, these critics said, prosecutors used the law to hold people themselves suspected of links to terrorism.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Laws concerning immigration offenses were also used to detain people suspected of terrorism, according to a 2003 report from the Justice Department’s inspector general. The report said that the usual presumptions of the legal system were turned upside down after the attacks. People detained on immigration charges were considered guilty until proven innocent and were often held for months in harsh conditions after they were ordered released.
In decisions in 2009 and May of this year, the Supreme Court blocked two lawsuits seeking to hold Mr. Ashcroft accountable for what the plaintiffs said were abuses in the use of the material-witness and immigration laws.
“It should come as no surprise,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for a five-justice majority in one of them, “that a legitimate policy directing law enforcement to arrest and detain individuals because of their suspected link to the attacks should produce a disparate, incidental impact on Arab Muslims, even though the purpose of the policy was to target neither Arabs nor Muslims.”
In the decade since the attacks, the government also became notably more aggressive in the use of informants and sting operations, sowing distrust in some parts of Muslim communities. In one such operation, an imam in Albany was ensnared in a fictitious plot involving shoulder-launched missiles and the assassination of a Pakistani diplomat in New York.
Defending the 15-year sentence meted out to the imam, Yassin M. Aref, prosecutors said the new paradigm of prevention justified the tactics. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation has an obligation to use all available investigative tools,” prosecutors wrote in a 2007 appeals court brief, “including a sting operation, to remove those ready and willing to help terrorists from our streets.”
Protections ‘Seriously Diluted’
Not all new tactics in combating terrorism in the United States were based on existing laws. “In electronic surveillance, you did have a big change,” said John C. Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who became known for his aggressive legal advice and expansive view of executive power as a Justice Department official in the Bush administration.
In 2002, for instance, a special federal appeals court, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, granted the Justice Department broad new powers to use wiretaps obtained for intelligence operations in criminal cases. “This revolutionizes our ability to investigate terrorists and prosecute terrorist acts,” Mr. Ashcroft said at the time.
After revelations concerning the warrantless wiretapping of international communications, Congress largely endorsed the program. Those legal changes, joined with striking advances in technology, have allowed the government broad ability to gather information.
“The Fourth Amendment has been seriously diluted,” said Professor Herman, who teaches at Brooklyn Law School. She added that she was struck by “the amount of surveillance that’s been unleashed with less and less judicial review and less and less individualized suspicion.”
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have been criticized by liberals as employing excessive secrecy and, in particular, for invoking the state secrets privilege to shut down civil litigation challenging things like rendition and surveillance programs. By international standards, though, the public has learned a great deal about secret government activities.
“That so many of the abuses committed by the executive in the wake of 9/11 have come to light is another sign of American exceptionalism,” Professor Roach wrote, “as manifested by the activities of a free press that is unrestrained by official secrets acts found in most other democracies.”
Opinions vary about whether efforts to fight terrorism in the United States have inflicted collateral damage on political dissent, religious liberty and the freedom of association.
“If you look at it historically,” said Professor Yoo, “you might say, ‘I can’t believe we’re at war,’ when you see how much speech is going on. Civil liberties are far more protected than what we’ve seen in past wars.”
Professor Cole was less sanguine.
“Since 9/11, the criminal law has expanded, ensnaring as ‘terrorists’ people who have done no more than provide humanitarian aid to needy families, while privacy and political freedoms have contracted, especially for those in Muslim communities,” he said. “On the one hand, the past 10 years have shown that criminal law can be used effectively to fight terrorism; on the other, it has also demonstrated that the demand for prevention can all too quickly lead to the abuse of innocents.”
A version of this article appears in print on September 11, 2011, on page F14 of the New York edition with the headline: Civil Liberties Today
Privacy rights battle just beginning
January 31, 2012 crisisboom
THE ISSUE: Ruling on GPS attachment
OUR VIEW: Technology forcing need for clarification on privacy rights
The U.S. Supreme Court rightly ruled n United States vs. Jones that secretly tracking people’s movements by attaching GPS devices to their cars violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches unless police first get a warrant from a judge.
While the justices came down firmly on the side of privacy in this case, the battle is just beginning to protect privacy rights in this age of technology when more eyes are watching us than ever before.
The court’s ruling validates the belief that people have a reasonable expectation that they will not be subject to constant monitoring by the government, and that escalating secretive technological surveillance violates a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
“We have entered a new and frightening age when advancing technology is erasing the Fourth Amendment,” says John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.
“Thankfully, in recognizing that the placement of a GPS device on Antoine Jones’s Jeep violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the U.S. Supreme Court has sent a resounding message to government officials – especially law enforcement officials – that there are limits to their powers.”
Government lawyers argued that Jones had no expectation of privacy when he traveled on public roads and that, in any case, tracking his movements through the GPS was no different than surveillance of his comings and goings by police officers physically shadowing him. The only difference was the GPS accomplished the same task more efficiently, they argued.
Justice Antonin Scalia dismissed that claim on the grounds that installing the device on a private car constituted a “search” under the Fourth Amendment and therefore required police to obtain a warrant. Scalia based his reasoning on an obscure provision of 18th century tort law that seemed to limit the ruling’s application to devices “physically” attached to a subject’s vehicle. However, in concurring opinions, several of the justices suggested the requirement for a warrant may also apply to a much broader range of technologies.
And those technologies abound, points out The Rutherford Institute’s Whitehead.
Here are just a few:
Drones – pilotless, remote-controlled aircraft used extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – are being used increasingly domestically by law enforcement. Some states are proposing to use drones to track citizens and closely monitor individuals based on the mere suspicions of law enforcement officers.
Surveillance cameras – According to Whitehead, a member of the surveillance camera industry has said, “Pretty soon, security cameras will be like smoke detectors: They’ll be everywhere.” And Whitehead notes, “The cameras, installed on office buildings, banks, stores, and private establishments, open the door to suspicionless monitoring of innocent individuals that chill the exercise of First Amendment rights. For example, the New York Police Department has adopted the practice of videotaping individuals engaged in lawful public demonstrations. The government also uses traffic cameras as a form of visual surveillance to track individuals as they move about a city.”
Smart dust devices – Tiny, wireless microelectromechanical sensors that can detect light and movement. These “motes” could eventually be as small as a grain of sand, but will still be capable of gathering massive amounts of data, running computations and communicating that information using two-way band radio between motes as far as 1,000 feet away. Whitehead points out that in the near future, law enforcement officials will be able to use these devices to maintain covert surveillance operations on unsuspecting citizens.
Then there are RFIDs, Radio Frequency Identifications, that have the ability to contain or transmit information wirelessly using radio waves. And don’t forget cell phones that contain tracking chips which enable cellular providers to collect data on and identify the location of the user. On top of that, Google announced this week it will be gathering and storing more information than ever before on users of its products beginning in March, and the kicker is that Google users won’t be able to opt out of this “data mining” feature.
It all smacks of George Orwell’s “1984,” doesn’t it? There appears to be no end to how far surveillance technologies will be able to intrude into our private lives.
That’s why we believe congressional hearings are needed now on comprehensive legislation to deal with these issues. As Justice Alito recognized, “the best solution to privacy concerns may be legislative. A legislative body is well situated to gauge changing public attitudes, to draw detailed lines and to balance privacy and public safety in a comprehensive way.”
There appears to be no end to how far surveillance technologies will be able to intrude into our private lives.