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Government and People
Statement of Timothy Cooper on Behalf of the International Human Rights Law Groups before the 58th Sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights Under Item 11: Civil and Political Rights
Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, I wish to direct the world's attention to a human rights case about the denial of equal civil and political rights to the people of the capital city of the United States of America-Washington, DC.
The nearly 600,000 residents of this city have been barred under the US constitution from exercising their fundamental human right to political participation in their country's national legislature for 200 years. They have not been permitted to cast a single vote in the US Congress — the highest bi-cameral deliberative body of the nation — since the city's inception. They continue to be denied that right until today. They cannot vote on national affairs.
Nine years ago, case No. 11.402 of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, cited as Statehood Solidarity Committee v. the United States of America, was filed by residents of the city, charging the United States government with violations of articles 2 and 20 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, which defines the human rights obligations of the Organization of American States. These rights include the right to equality before the law and the right to equal political participation in one's own national legislature.
The disenfranchisement of the people of Washington, DC, 63% of whom are African-Americans, represents a failure of the US political leadership to keep pace with evolutionary standards of democracy around the world. There is no other federal capital anywhere in the world that denies its citizens equal political participation in their own national legislature — except for the United States of America.
The fact that the US Constitution prohibits equal political rights to over a half million people provides no grounds to justify non-compliance with international treaty obligations under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
The fact that the US has denied these rights to so many people for so long with complete impunity is both disturbing and disquieting.
Mr. Chairman, this era of impunity has now ended.
On October 17, 2001, the Inter-American Commission issued a confidential decision on the merits of this case. That decision, along with the Commission's recommendations, has been forwarded to the United States government, so as to provide it with an opportunity to adopt the Commission's recommendations within a period of 90 days.
To date, it has not done so. Nor does it intend to. The political status of DC residents remains unchanged. That the United States government would refuse to comply with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ recommendations should be a source of considerable concern for this Commission.
By rejecting the Commission's recommendations, the US demonstrates not only a total disregard for the human rights of the people living in its capital city to enjoy equal political participation-the very essence of democracy — but it also furthers the perception of others around the world that there exists a double standard for the US with regard to its own human rights practices.
Mr. Chairman, the denial of political participation to the residents of Washington, DC has been likened to a form of “political slavery.” This is so because those citizens who do not enjoy the right of representation at the highest levels of government can never fully participate in a genuine democracy, for they will always be subjected to the arbitrary authority of others, who do not — cannot — by any democratic standards, legitimately represent their interests.
In short, Mr. Chairman, those who are denied the fundamental right to equal political participation in the national legislature will never be free, even if they live in a democracy.
Therefore, I appeal to this Commission to call upon the United States government to comply with all recommendations made in the aforementioned case, so that the people of Washington DC will at last be free to live in dignity with equal rights under law.
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