Money > People

23 Oct

If you haven’t yet noticed through reading this blog, or if you don’t already know about this through knowing me personally, I work in parallels.  I read things, I get upset about things, but sometimes the only way for me to make sense of it all is to compare the thing I am upset about — but that I lack the language to work through — to something else seemingly unconnected to it and draw a line between the two.  I guess I like to create an equal playing field within my mind and hold dissimilar things to similar standards.  That’s how I got from domestic violence within a human rights framework to trade agreements.  Onward.

This past week I had the pleasure of leaving Brooklyn and traveling, via Bolt Bus, to Washington, DC to visit a very good friend of mine who just recently started law school.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  She was on fall break and needed a small brain vacation from the stresses of the first year of law school which, as I understand it, is a torturous experience.  I needed a vacation from the stresses associated with the ridiculous amount of guilt I feel about avoiding my thesis.  It’s basically become a full-time job.  Anyway, one of the things we did while I was down there was attend a super interesting talk about the idea of domestic violence within the international human rights framework.  Yea, I didn’t really understand how that worked either.  So here is my very basic explanation of the things we learned about, lacking probably crucial details, because my memory just ain’t what it used to be.

So basically what I learned was that being a woman is a lot of times terrible.  And, not surprisingly, this is no different within the legal framework.  The professor and guest lecturer went over a number of cases over the past few decades within the United States that basically eroded the ability of victims of domestic violence (generally women and children) to bring charges against the state for negligence.  When someone takes out a restraining order, the idea is not that the state is in that person’s house, intervening at the first sign of trouble.  Instead, the police (or so I thought) have an obligation to enforce a restraining order if the holder of it calls them, reporting that the order has been broken in some way.  I learned that although one would think that a mandatory restraining order means that the police, an agent of the state by the way (until they are inevitably privatized which scares the shit out of me), are required to protect the holder of the order of protection from the person she took it out against.  That, oddly enough, is not exactly the case.  Mandatory, in this case, doesn’t actually mean mandatory.  The state is under no legal obligation to protect a victim from her victimizer even if she has gone through the appropriate mechanisms to seek guaranteed safety.  There were a few different legal avenues a woman could previously take to bring charges against the state for negligence.  All of those avenues have been systematically eroded, now leaving a victim without means to sue the state if, say, her children are murdered at the hands of her violent ex-husband from whom she is supposedly protected.  Scary, right?  So what is the next step?

This is where international human rights enters.  Human rights, or at least the way that I think about them, are based upon this moral and ethical understanding that all people are equal.  I know that is super simplistic.  What has happened in the US in terms of DV is that the state apparatus is protecting itself from the whims of its citizens.  Part of human rights is that they protect individuals from the whims of the state.  So, the next step could be that women, who have exhausted all domestic options in terms of holding someone accountable for the actions, or lack thereof, of the state or an actor of the state, bring their tale of violated rights to an international human rights body.    That body, in the case we heard about it was the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which then looks at the facts, looks at the legislative trail and comes to a decision as to whether or not an individual’s human rights have been violated and then sends that finding to the offending state, allowing the state in question to respond.  In the case of the US who, obviously if you know anything about our record on this sort of thing,* has not ratified whatever it needs to ratify to be held accountable by this organization and so whatever the IACHR might find in the case of the US basically holds no water.  It is an embarrassment to the US, sure, but there is nothing that the IACHR can do.  It has no power.

Part of the reason for this is that the United States, in all its exceptionalism and all its talk about holding other countries accountable for human rights violations, does not want to be held accountable for its own.  It does not want to give any other body jurisdiction over the affairs within its borders.  It’s like human rights isolationism.  So aside from a strongly worded letter, a victim has absolutely no recourse.  No wait while I blow your mind even more.

I just recently (as in about 20 minutes ago when I decided to write this blog) read this article in Salon by Matt Stoller.  It’s worth a read and contains a whole lot more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) than what I am about to say.  Basically, the TPP, along with NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, gives foreign companies the rights to impact US law.  The WTO, for example, can put sanctions on the US if its domestic environmental, financial and social interest laws are too restrictive of foreign products.  Have you noticed that all tuna cans no longer have huge labels pronouncing that product dolphin-free?  That’s because it was negatively impacting companies exporting tuna to the US.  When we are dealing at an international level without standardization in regards to manufacturing and product safety, this is not something we can really afford.  And yet we do it.  Somehow it is reasonable to amend our laws to permit the sale of candy-flavored cigarettes but not to guarantee state-sanctioned protection of a domestic violence victim.  Abiding by international trade laws is more important than human rights norms.  Placating trade partners is more important than protecting our citizens.  Money is more important than people.

* The US has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or the landmine ban, among other things.  I leave you to imagine why that might be.

6 Responses to “Money > People”

  1. creatingcarrie October 23, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    another huge problem is that *none* of the systems really deal with private violence. you can go through this process after “going public” about your abuse or when it is part of an epidemic (like rapes of lesbians by men in South Africa). but private torture, the law does not know how to deal with it.

    • FranklyRebekah October 24, 2012 at 9:23 am #

      And then, to extend that, the people who tend to be the victims of private abuse are often those who are legally disempowered as it is.

  2. john October 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    When your confronted with the likes of a lunatic EX…. go out and buy and train yourself how to use a handgun. Than when he shows up for your murder you can fill him full of lead!! 🙂

    • john October 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm #


      • FranklyRebekah October 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

        I have my blog set up in such a way that I have to moderate all comments for obvious reasons. I am not always at my computer so sometimes moderation takes some time.

    • FranklyRebekah October 24, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

      This particular blog post is not about the use of self-defense but instead is a means to explore the responsibilities of the state and supra-state structures and, beyond that, to think about where the line between domestic and international issues is drawn and why. Perhaps this story would have ended differently had she filled her ex “full of lead” but it might not have turned out better, especially given that children were involved.

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