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Credibility of Democracy Rests on The Responsibility for Every Citizen’s Human and Civil Rights

By Horace Blake

The post-civil rights movement of past decades has taken a new focus on several hot topics such as equal pay for women, health information privacy and confidentiality, Americans with disabilities, gender equality and defining marriage and family. Many “baby boomers” reaching retirement age has also inspired an onslaught of age discrimination activities under the disguise of restructuring. This is of importance as many private sector employers are contractors of the federal, state and municipal governments that utilize public funds for the implementation of contracts, thus subjecting these organizations to additional scrutiny by the law.

It must be clear to distinguish civil rights as being what a nation’s inhabitants enjoy based on the law, meaning this has a legal and philosophical framework. These laws are guaranteed by the Constitution such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the voice of the press, due process of the law and equal protection under the law. In terms of human rights, the premise is based on a framework that protects civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. In examining civil and human rights, that is guided by moral factors, more emphasis has to be placed on the word of the law in order to ensure an adequate framework that serves as support, enforcement, evaluation and dissemination to be effective in our civil society.

History and Timeline of Civil Rights in the United States

There are several milestones to reflect on historical civil rights. In 1948, President Truman signed into law Executive Order 9981, which stated, “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion, or national origin.  This was followed in 1954 through The Supreme Court ruling in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.  The high court unanimously agreed that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This ruling was the impetus that paved the way for larger scale reviews of other practices and actions that were discriminatory. During the 1960s, the South experienced upheaval in terms of voting rights issues, transportation, employment, hospitality accommodations, housing and educational opportunities for mostly African-Americans. This gave rise to a multi-racial group of civil rights advocates and most important Dr. Marin Luther King, who became the face of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and the 1960s. This turbulent period had some very dark days that overshadowed other important societal development in a robust economy.

As President Johnson took over the office of the presidency, he signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which encompassed the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.  A year later in 1965, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 which enforced affirmative action for the first time. It required government contractors to “take affirmative action” toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion or national origin as well as providing for the federal government with the powers to enforce desegregation.

This was not a cure all as it became necessary to revisit the civil rights issue again. After many delays and threats of vetoes, President Bush signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 which strengthened existing civil rights laws and provided for damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination. Here the discussion arose why there was the need to revisit this law yet again. The answer became evident that almost two decades after the Presidents’ signing, the Civil Rights Act of 2008 was introduced with proposed provisions to include ensuring that federal funds are not used to subsidize discrimination, holding employers accountable for age discrimination and improving accountability for other violations of civil rights and workers’ rights.

Human Rights Framework

Human rights are guided by principles of accountability, transparency, participation, indivisibility, universality and non-discrimination. These principles are focused on the notion that everyone should be afforded this right without exception. Citizens should also have the right to participate in how decisions are made regarding protection of their rights. Responsibilities are placed on government to have very clear mechanisms in place to enforce or resolve issues related to abuse of human rights.

Recently there came about several public cases related to human rights abuses here in the U.S. These cases were based on human trafficking, which is challenging to the American values such as wages paid and other accommodating factors that decides how work is accomplished and compensated for.  An Asian diplomat, after initially promising her immigrant housekeeper a good living wage, employed the housekeeper for much less than the minimum wages allowed in this country. Agents raided several locations in the city of Houston and found human trafficking violations as individuals were kept in forced labor with promises of opportunities that were never intended to be realized. This also brought to light that Texas is one of the top areas for human trafficking due to its expansive border and coastline. As stated by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, there must be a concerted effort to ensure that trafficked persons are given access to effective and appropriate legal remedies. Also where applicable intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations should consider taking measures adopted for the purpose of preventing and combatting trafficking that would not have any adverse impact on the rights, dignity and health of persons including those who have been trafficked.

The civil rights law surrounding age discrimination and improving accountability for other violations of civil rights and workers’ rights has been suggested to be up for review by the Congress.

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