Human Rights Watch, the international watchdog agency, has just issued its annual report, with the main story of course being the Arab Spring, and how the international community is (or isn't) supporting the burgeoning democratic movements in repressive countries. You can download the whole report, or browse through it, country by country.
The United States. a putative democracy and thereby expected to lead the rest of the world by example, got an unsurprising dismal review. HRW did, however, take note of a few efforts at improvement under the Obama Administration:
According to a piece in the New York Times last week, a pilot program testing out the new leniency policy revealed approximately one of every six undocumented workers swept up by DHS has been granted a reprieve -- but is still barred from working and driving in the United States. So I guess limbo is better than hell, although not by much.In one of the few rights-protective immigration reforms in 2011, DHS (Dept of Homeland Security) announced that it will undertake case-by-case reviews of over 300,000 pending deportation cases and cases deemed to be low-priority will be administratively closed, allowing some potential deportees to remain in the country with temporary legal status. In identifying low-priority cases DHS will weigh non-citizens’ family and community ties, military service, and whether they arrived in the US as children.
The report also noted that draconian immigration policies in Arizona and Alabama and a few other states have been only partially enjoined by the federal courts.
And despite having our first black president, institutional racism is still alive and well in America, especially in the criminal justice system. We have the largest prison system in the world and the highest per capita incarceration rate. From the report:
Whites and African Americans engage in drug offenses at roughly equivalent rates, and African Americans account for only about 13 percent of the US population, yet African Americans comprised about 33 percent of all drug arrests in 2009. Not surprisingly, higher arrest rates lead to higher incarceration rates. For example, 45 percent of inmates in state prisons for drug offenses in 2009 were African American; only 27 percent were white.On a related note, there has been only the slightest improvement in humane treatment of prison populations:
Persons of color comprise 77 percent of all youth serving life without parole sentences. And for the first time in the country’s history in 2011, people of Latin American origin made up the majority of federal prisoners in the US, due to the federal government’s increased focus on prosecuting unauthorized immigrants.
In February 2011 the DOJ issued its long-overdue proposed standards to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). While some standards meet the 2009 PREA Commission recommendations, several proposed standards are significantly weaker. For example, the proposed DOJ standards do not clearly require facilities to be staffed sufficiently to prevent, detect, and respond to the sexual abuse of prisoners. The standards would leave survivors of sexual assault without legal remedy because they were unable to comply with unduly strict internal grievance procedures. The proposed standards also explicitly exclude immigration detention facilities from coverage. At this writing the final PREA standards have not been issued.And this year, three more states decided to do away with the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners, bringing the grand total to (only) 14 with such policies.
The report also takes note that more states are attempting to take away workers' collective bargaining rights, and that federal child labor laws are not regularly enforced as they pertain to migrant farm workers' children. (So Newt Gingrich is not so far out of the mainstream after all when he suggests it would be just fine if kids worked as janitors.) The United States is one of the few civilized nations that has no paid maternity leave policy, contributing to health problems in both mothers and infants.
The HIV infection rate continues to rise in this country, which HRW ascribes in part to states' bans on needle exchange programs for addicts.
Some improvements were noted in gay rights policies: Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed and the government is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act. New York State passed the Marriage Equality Act.
And last but not least, the Obama Administration gets poor grades for its indefinite detention policies and secretive drone killings abroad, and its continuing failure to investigate and prosecute torture by the Bush Administration.