Monday, December 19, 2016
Editor's note: Prof. Francisco Rivera guest blogs to give us a first-hand account of bringing the Human Right City resolution to Mountain View, CA.
As Martha Davis posted, the City Council of Mountain View, CA passed a resolution last week adopting the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as guiding principles and designating Mountain View as a Human Rights City. Students in the International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara Law provided technical assistance to the city throughout the process. Ultimately, as Martha mentioned, the resolution passed, but not unanimously. In the clinic’s press release, we highlighted positive comments from the mayor and other councilmembers who voted in favor of the resolution. What we did not mention were the comments from the two councilmembers who voted against it. I think it is important for us to become familiar with those arguments so that we can be better prepared to address them.
A video recording of the City Council’s session can be accessed here, with the relevant discussion taking place from the 4hr 31min mark through the 5hr 28min mark.
Consider the following exchange between Councilmember John Inks and Councilmember Ken Rosenberg (the person primarily responsible for this resolution):
- Councilmember Inks: “I guess I am biased by my American history and the principles that we have in this country, which are based on liberty and freedom, including economic freedom. […] This resolution […] is a springboard for a UN-style sort of governance and economic policy. […] Basically it is a manifesto for socialism, as opposed to the American tradition, which is based on constitutional principles, rule of law, economic liberty, and personal freedom, and not what is in the UN document (the UDHR).”
- Councilmember Rosenberg: “Are you saying this (the UDHR and the resolution) subverts our laws?”
- Councilmember Inks: “It is contrary to American tradition.”
- Councilmember Rosenberg: “American tradition supports human rights.”
- Councilmember Inks: “Ultimately, the UN principles get down to designing the desired political system, which is a socialist system, so I won’t be supporting the resolution.”
The frustration on Councilmember Rosenberg’s face was unmistakable.
Councilmember (and former mayor) John McAlister also voted against the resolution. He said, “This UN deal […] for me, it’s too much. There could be some unknowns in there, and I have a feeling this could come bite us in the rear end sometime. […] I will not be supporting the idea of becoming a Human Rights City, but I would be willing to recommend that we consider implementing some framework –not necessarily a human rights framework – but a policy that incorporates human dignity and respect for all.”
For me, these exchanges highlight how the human rights message is often misunderstood, particularly by those in government. We must do better to address these misconceptions. In response to similar concerns raised by the City Council and by the Human Relations Commission, our students prepared a FAQs document on Human Rights Cities. Maybe we should collectively engage in similar efforts to frame responses to common criticisms of the applicability and relevance of the human rights framework in the US.