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How to Use "New" Civil Rights Laws after 9-11
Ann Fagan Ginger, Ed.
Berkeley: Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, 2003
320 pp., $36.95 (plus $10.00 S & H), paper

In January of this year I called the Congressional Offices of Senators Bingaman and Domenici and Representatives Wilson and Udall and spoke to the "human rights liaison" for each office. I asked why 146 countries in the world had ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), but the U.S. along with notable countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Indonesia had not. Remarkably only one of the four human right liaisons (from Tom Udall's office) had even heard of the ICESCR. I note this point to illustrate that few, even in politics, know of the human rights laws that have been developed over the last fifty years.

The recent publication from the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, How to Use "New" Civil Rights Laws after 9-11, was developed to stem this tide of ignorance and to show how existing national and international law can be used to protect and secure our human rights. The authors rightfully assert that few people in politics, the media, or in the general public know of the broad range of laws that have been developed to promote civil, political, social, and economic rights worldwide. They also correctly note that some of our fundamental human rights are being quickly eroded here in the U.S.

The USA PATRIOT Act (discussed in detail elsewhere in this issue) and the political climate of the day have significantly affected our right to free speech, right to assembly, right to privacy, right to effective counsel, and have allowed the unlawful detention of hundreds of immigrants. This manual was developed as a resource for activists, lawyers, judges, teachers, legislators, and the media, so they can more fully understand and use the law to protect our rights. It reviews major documents such as the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The manual also gives a summary of the current status of various treaties and how they have been used in U.S. courts to protect rights. Other treaties, such as the ICESCR, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which have not been ratified by the U.S., also are reviewed. The authors provide brief suggestions as to how activists could apply pressure to have these treaties ratified and turned into the "supreme law of the land."

About two-thirds of the manual is dedicated to providing the complete texts of many international human rights treaties. Although it may be useful for some to have these documents readily available in one place, most of these treaties are easily found on the web (http://www.unhchr.ch/), and the $36.95 price tag may be a bit high for materials found on-line for free.

Nonetheless, the information contained in How to Use "New" Civil Rights Laws after 9-11 is critically important for these times, and it is incumbent upon all of us to understand and protect our basic rights. In 1945 after the U.S. Senate ratified the Charter of the United Nations, President Truman commented, "it remains now for the people of the United States to see to it that the (UN) Charter works… only if they understand what the Charter is and what it can mean to the peace of the world will the document become a living human reality."

Understanding and disseminating the content of this manual would be an important step to this end. The manual provides a broad introduction to human rights law for those new to the field and gives insightful updates that will be useful to all, including seasoned human rights advocates.


— John Fogarty is a physician and teaches a course on health and human rights at the University of New Mexico.


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"For as adamant as my country has been about civil liberties during peacetime, it has a long history of failing to preserve civil liberties when it perceived its national security threatened. This series of failures is particularly frustrating in that it appears to result not from informed and rational decisions that protecting civil liberties would expose the United States to unacceptable security risks, but rather from the episodic nature of our security crises. But it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis came along."
--Supreme Court Justice William Brennan
December 22, 1987



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