Human rights in the new millennium

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Human Rights in the New Millennium
It is significant that the U.S. is self-exempted from international law
January 2010
By Noam Chomsky

Before trying to address the current state of human rights, it is worth
considering what is admitted into that sacred canon. The question constantly
arises, quite concretely. For example, on the International Day for the
Eradication of Poverty in October,when Amnesty International declared that,
"Poverty is the world's worst human rights crisis." Or two days before that, on
World Food Day, when the UN food agency reported that the number of
people going hungry rose to over 1 billion, while rich countries sharply cut
back food aid because of the priority of bailing out banks, and Oxfam reported
that 16,000 children are dying a day fromhunger-related causes—that is twice Rwanda-level killing
just among children—not for 100 days, but every day, and increasing. And the issues regularly arise
even in the richest country in the world, where the question of whether health care is a human right is
being hotly debated while some 45,000 people a year die from lack of insurance, unknown numbers
from utterly inadequate insurance, in theonly industrial society I know of where health care is
rationed by wealth, not need.
In all these cases, the lives could be saved by a tiny fraction of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of
the rich countries, so the question is whether they recognize the right to life as among human rights.
There is a gold standard on human rights—the founding documents of the
UN—the Charter, and the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights (UD).
The charter guarantees the right to be protected from what was declared at
Nuremberg to be the "supreme international crime," differing from other
war crimes in that it encompasses all the evil that follows: the crime of
aggression, which is reasonably well-defined. In practice, the Charter has
long ago been revoked. Article 2(4) is in the wastebasket. Thereare
sophisticated arguments in the international law literature to show that it
doesn't mean what it says, when we carry out aggression, that is; no such
questions arise when Russia or Saddam Hussein do.
The U.S. has been, in large measure, the global sovereign since World War II and remains so despite
the increasing diversity of the global economy in past decades. Hence its practices are ofgreat

significance in considering the prospects for human rights. It is, for example, of great significance that
the U.S. is self-exempted from international law—John F. Kennedy's armed attack against South
Vietnam in 1962—to mention one case of no slight import that took place in the real world, but not in
official history, opening the most severe crimes of aggression since World War II.The Case of Nicaragua

Sometimes there have been candid explanations of the reasons for the U.S. exemption from

international law. One instructive case was during the U.S. war against Nicaragua in the 1980s,
which, incidentally, falls quite precisely under "aggression" as defined at Nuremberg. As you know,
Nicaragua brought a case against the U.S. to the International Court of Justice(ICJ). The case was
presented by Abram Chayes, a distinguished Harvard University law professor and former legal
adviser to the State Department. Most of his case was rejected by the Court on the grounds that, in
accepting ICJ jurisdiction in 1946, the U.S. had entered a reservation excluding itself from
prosecution under multilateral treaties, among them the UN and OAS Charters. The Courttherefore
restricted its deliberations to customary international law and a bilateral U.S.-Nicaragua treaty. Even
on these very narrow grounds, the Court charged Washington with "unlawful use of force"—in
informal usage, international terrorism—and ordered it to terminate the crimes and pay substantial
reparations, which would have gone far beyond paying off the huge debt that was strangling...
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