Unit V.  International Human Rights
             in the Domestic US Context

A Case to Consider

What would you think if a member of your family had been murdered, but prosecution couldn’t proceed because of a fair procedure issue found in international law?

A number of international human rights standards raise fundamental questions for American society.

For example, the World Court (International Court of Justice) in several judgments has reaffirmed a treaty provision in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations to the effect that when a foreign defendant is charged with a capital crime, the foreign defendant must be able to consult a representative (consular official) from his/her home state. In the US, this would apply in federal and state courts. This is to ensure adequate defense counsel. Faced with that situation, the Bush administration has withdrawn its agreement to a key additional protocol (Protocol #2). This protocol allows the ICJ to pronounce on that kind of issue. Rather than have Oklahoma courts, for example, meet international standards of due process, the US has withdrawn from the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ on that subject.

International human rights standards found in some treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, raise important questions about how much any public law or public authority should intrude into parental and family matters. American society is based on a large zone of privacy rights that is resistant to public regulation.

Human rights treaties are not just collections of legal technicalities that only concern specialized lawyers. Human rights treaties raise central questions about justice and the good society.

If an American is charged with a capital crime in a foreign country, should that American have the right to consult with someone from the US State Department? Should foreigners have the same right in the US?

What rights should parents have to lead their own families?

Are there times when children need to work? Should they be allowed? Should they be monitored?

In this unit, you’ll learn how the provisions of human rights treaties and customary international law can be adopted — and adapted — to become part of US law.
Treaty into Law
Customary International Law

Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and Optional Protocols
AP: Rights of Foreigners on Death Row Examined
BBC: Gap and Nike: No Sweat
Foreign Nationals and the Death Penalty in the US
MSNBC: Justices to review foreigners on death row
PBS: No Sweat: Labor’s Pains

Unit IV. International
Humanitarian Law