On issues ranging from U.S. drone warfare to economic human rights to fair elections, protesters against the Republican National Convention this week and the Democratic National Convention the following week are highlighting a host of U.S. violations of international norms. How the police handle the demonstrations will showcase whether the United States respects another important international obligation of the U.S. government – respecting the right to assembly.
Protests related to the RNC in Tampa, Florida, kicked off on Thursday with more than 100 peace activists demonstrating at the local Raytheon plant, stressing the company’s role in manufacturing unmanned aerial drones used by the U.S. to bomb countries such as Pakistan.
The demonstration fell on the same day that Pakistan had summoned U.S. embassy officials to the Foreign Office to lodge protest over U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan. In a statement, the Foreign Office said: “A senior US diplomat was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and informed that the drone strikes were unlawful, against international law and a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. It was emphatically stated that such attacks were unacceptable.”
The following day, the U.S. launched another drone attack in North Waziristan, killing 18. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been tracking U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, reports that since 2004, there have been 340 strikes on the country, with 2,557-3,303 casualties. Civilians reported killed range from 473-880, including 175 children.
A common tactic of the CIA’s drone campaign is to target civilians who are helping to rescue the injured or are attending funerals of drone victims, an investigation by the Bureau has revealed. Columnist Glenn Greenwald points out that these secondary attacks have long been considered a hallmark of terrorists according to the U.S. government, with the Department of Homeland Security dubbing the tactic a “double tap” in a 2007 report.
At Thursday’s Raytheon demonstration, protesters chanted, “Raytheon, shame on you; Children die because of you.”
“Raytheon is one of the companies in production of drone software as well as drones, and one of the companies that profits from war and is addicted to war,” protest organizer Medea Benjamin said. “Companies like Raytheon survive because of our tax dollars.”
On the opening day of the RNC, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign will march to call for a stop to all home foreclosures, and against “the criminalization of the poor and homeless.”
The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is “committed to uniting the poor as the leadership base for a broad movement to abolish poverty everywhere and forever,” according to its website. The organization points out that economic human rights are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the United States is a party. Articles 23, 25, and 26 of the UDHR, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign notes,
state our right to such provisions as housing, health care, a living wage job, and education. The founding creed of the United States of America, which asserts our rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, inspired the formulation of these human rights. Our government signed the UDHR in 1948; its full implementation would mean that our country would be living out the true meaning of its creed. This American Dream is possible because our country is the richest and most powerful in the world.
The group will take this message to the RNC on Monday, marching from a “Romneyville” encampment to the Convention site at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
The following day, youth from the Latino community are joining with African American leaders for a large-scale march “to remind candidates and elected officials that their anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric will not dissuade Latinos and African-Americans from flexing their political muscle despite the fraudulent voter suppression laws.”
Organized by the Florida Consumer Action Network, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and Unidos Now!, the March Against Voter Suppression’s call to action reads,
In Florida, a state with a reputation for egregious voter rights violations, they have been pushing ID requirements they know will disproportionately affect Latinos, African Americans, and youth. Other attempts have included using faulty methods to check citizenship to disenfranchise Latino voters, shortening early voting, and pushing a requirement that volunteers registering people turn in registrations in 48 hours, leading to a high school teacher facing thousands in fines for registering her students. This measure chased the League of Women Voters out of the state, who said that it made voter registration drives impossible since registration workers cannot make the deadline. The League estimated that this would discourage 20% of voter registration, to address voter fraud, which, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, occurs .0004% of the time.
The new restrictions on voting have been challenged in U.S. courts, with a federal three-judge court in Washington blocking a Florida law that had reduced the days for early voting, saying the law violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act in parts of the state.
Many of these new restrictions pertaining to voter registration, inconsistent voter ID requirements and disenfranchisement of ex-prisoners are also likely violations of international commitments on elections, as spelled out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document.
As the ICCPR states,
Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:
(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors
In the 1990 Copenhagen Document, the United States as an OSCE member country agreed that in order to “ensure that the will of the people serves as the basis of the authority of government,” it will “guarantee universal and equal suffrage to adult citizens.”
Past election assessments by the OSCE, however, have called into question the U.S.’s respect for this commitment.
Following the 2004 election, the OSCE noted that “allegations of electoral fraud and voter suppression, primarily among minorities, were widely reported and presented to the EOM in the pre-election period.” The observers expressed concern that “the widespread nature of these allegations may undermine confidence in the electoral process.”
Assessing the 2008 election, Audrey Glover, the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission, stated, “The controversies during the campaign over persisting allegations of election irregularities showed that electoral reform efforts must continue to address remaining shortcomings and allow voters to fully regain confidence in the election system.”
In a recent preliminary report on the 2012 elections, the OSCE lamented that in 2011, “Florida and Iowa passed legislation that reversed previous reforms, re-introducing permanent disenfranchisement of prisoners and ex-prisoners.” This disenfranchisement is a clear breach of the U.S. commitment to guarantee universal and equal suffrage to adult citizens.
Tuesday’s march against voter suppression is scheduled to start at Centennial Park in Tampa at 5PM. “Stand up with us as we say no more,” the call to action reads. “No more will we stand by and let the Republican war on voting go by unchecked.”
The following week, the Democrats will hold their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, which as the second largest concentration of finance capital in the United States, has been dubbed “Wall Street of the South.”
Occupy Charlotte notes that North Carolina is “one of the most anti-union states in the country” and that Charlotte is “home of several corporate criminals, most notably Bank of America, one of the mega-banks most responsible for the 2008 economic meltdown.” It is also the East Coast headquarters of Wells Fargo and the home of Duke Energy, which recently merged with Progress Energy, making Duke the largest energy monopoly in the country.
Public Citizen has criticized organizers of the DNC for allowing its host committee to accept “in-kind” corporate contributions and donations up to $100,000 from wealthy individuals. The Democratic host committee has also formed a separate nonprofit group for soliciting corporate funds for administrative expenses outside the official convention venue.
“Thanks to investigative reporting,” notes Public Citizen, “we know that Bank of America and Duke Energy have opened their coffers to this separate group.”
The influence-peddling at the DNC may be in violation of federal campaign finance laws, Public Citizen says, which could place the U.S. in breach of the UN Convention against Corruption. This Convention calls for measures to be taken to ensure transparency, curb corruption and prevent conflicts of interest among public officials:
Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.
Each State Party shall endeavour to establish and promote effective practices aimed at the prevention of corruption.
Dealing specifically with the issue of funding political campaigns, the Convention requires state parties to “consider taking appropriate legislative and administrative measures, consistent with the objectives of this Convention and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office and, where applicable, the funding of political parties.”
“Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are controlled by moneyed interests and the 1%, and the Occupy Movement will hold both Parties accountable at the RNC in Tampa in August and at the DNC in Charlotte in September,” states Occupy Charlotte. “We cannot allow this two-party system and its corporate puppeteers to determine our country’s destiny.”
In opposition to this corporate-dominated two party system, Occupy Charlotte and other groups are organizing a wide range of actions for the week of the DNC. The Coalition to March on Wall Street South has called for a “Liberation Fest” for the entire day of Sept. 1, a “March on Wall Street South” for Sept. 2 and a Labor Day parade for Sept. 3.
During the Convention on Sept. 4-6, affinity group and other autonomous actions will take place in the streets of Charlotte.
The Bradley Manning Support Network will also be holding demonstrations in support of prisoner of conscience Pfc. Bradley Manning, both in Charlotte and around the country. In addition to a scheduled protest at the DNC, the group has called for nationwide actions at local Obama campaign offices on Sept. 6.
“Since Army PFC Bradley Manning’s arrest in May 2010 for allegedly sharing the ‘Collateral Murder’ video and other evidence of war crimes and government corruption with the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks,” the support network notes, “progressives and human rights activists have been asking, ‘Why isn’t President Obama stepping in to help Bradley?’”
The group expresses hope that “President Obama can be the vehicle of change on this issue, but first he needs to hear loud and clear from veterans and civilians across the country that the American people want amends for the unlawful torture of Bradley Manning, and believe he should be freed.”
Manning’s treatment has been widely criticized for violating a number of international obligations, including prohibitions against torture.
The cities of Tampa and Charlotte have adopted restrictions on the right to assembly during the conventions, and in the surrounding area of Charlotte, at least nine area counties and municipalities have restricted camping on public property, citing concerns about the Occupy Charlotte movement and potential protests tied to the DNC.
“These radical protest actions create a detriment to the health, safety and welfare of people, and the peace and dignity of the county,” stated Commissioner Jonathan Thomas in defense of new ordinances restricting the right to assembly during the DNC.
Last January, members of the community raised concern over the new ordinances at the Charlotte City Council.
Tampa has also made it clear that it will not tolerate any disruptions of the Republican National Convention (assuming that Hurricane Isaac doesn’t shut it down completely).
County Sheriff David Gee sent out an open letter declaring, “Tactically, we are ready. This is a special time for local civic pride as Tampa Bay gets ready to shine.”
Gee has already emptied the 1,700-bed Orient Road Jail, which is now being converted into a color-coded, closed-circuit “one-stop booking, detention, and bond-issuance center.” There will be “boots on the ground,” their uniforms clearly marked “to provide the appearance of a fine-tuned machine” with “a consistency in garb, response and reaction.”
“To the agitators and anarchists who want only to bring a dark cloud to this event, let me be clear,” Gee said. “Criminal activity and civil disturbances will not be tolerated and enforcement actions will be swift.”
Journalist Rania Khalek has reported that the Tampa City Council recently voted on using some of the $50 million in federal grants secured by the city for the RNC for a “series of police upgrades” that will include an armored vehicle and a high-tech communication system.
In policing the demonstrations, however, state and local authorities should bear in mind that the United States is a party to international agreements protecting the right to assembly.
As Article 20 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights plainly states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” And according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized.”
In protest of the undue restrictions on free assembly and the anticipated police crackdowns on the convention protests, Occupy St. Petersburg is organizing a “Death of Democracy March” for Aug. 26. The march will proceed from Mirror Lake Park to Tropicana Feild “where the world’s largest cocktail party is being held at taxpayers expense.”
“Please wear black,” the group requests.