…And so began my transition from and international human rights activist to a domestic human rights activist. At Global Rights I further explored what it would mean to make the human right to education real, not abroad, but here at home. Because the NAACP brought one of the first petitions to the UN charging Jim Crow amounted to genocide, the Southern Democrats (soon to be replaced by the Southern Republicans) forced the civil rights community to part with the resources of the UN human rights system through the threat of Communist tarring. This is a great loss, for the human rights framework offers standards, accountability, and forums in excess of what are conceived of in domestic law. The human right to education is based on four fundamental standards, availability, accessibility, acceptability, and adaptability, that U.S. activists could be using to measure how our own government is meeting its obligations to its children. And under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which the U.S. has ratified, the definition of discrimination (including in education) is anything which has the purpose or effect of unequal treatment – but yet the domestic courts continue to apply a discriminatory intent standard leaving the legacy of racism in this country legally unrecognized.
The biggest obstacle a human right to education is the U.S.’s powerfully successful notion of exceptionalism to human rights standards, and increasingly to our own Constitutional standards as well. Just as it does not believe it must follow the Geneva Conventions, this government (our state and local governments included) also believes it need not fully fund No Child Left Behind – demanding accountability from schools and students, but as Bill Taylor notes, failing to provide the public with the ability to hold the government accountable to its obligations. By returning to a human rights-based framework, we put the onus back where it belongs – on the government’s duty to fulfill its obligations to the rights-holders: the people.