At U.N., Trump Hides Behind ‘Sovereignty’ to Shield His Administration From Scrutiny

This morning, in his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump deployed a transparent and familiar tactic to justify a shameful record: an appeal to national sovereignty over human rights.

In his address, Trump mentioned “sovereignty” 21 times. That’s in contrast to a single reference to “human rights.” The United Nations, he stated, “was based on the vision that diverse nations could cooperate to protect their sovereignty, preserve their security and promote their prosperity.” That may be, but it’s far from the full picture.

The U.N., and other international institutions that the United States helped build after the horrors of World War II, recognized that without justice and fundamental human rights, there can be no peace or security. As a result, the 1945 charter of the United Nations is actually more rigorous in its requirements that “human rights and fundamental freedoms” be protected and defended than it is in its defense of national sovereignty. Indeed, it explicitly assigned to the General Assembly the responsibility of “assisting in the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out those rights in clear terms just a few years later.

In a world that places sovereignty above all, there can be no conflict resolution or meaningful protections against human rights abuses or authoritarian regimes. Each country could escalate its human rights violations and suppress democratic freedoms within its own borders, immune from external pressure and international accountability.

Clearly, this is the world that Trump seeks. By emphasizing national sovereignty over human rights, he would deflect attention from the domestic human rights abuses his administration is committing every day. He knows his agenda runs directly counter to the human rights norms promoted by international law, and his speech sends a clear signal to the world: Back off.

Since Trump’s inauguration, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights has criticized the president’s attacks on the media, mass deportations, and lack of leadership in addressing surges in white supremacist violence. A U.N. special rapporteur on torture has appealed to Trump not to reinstate waterboarding. A diverse group of U.N. human rights experts criticized his Muslim Ban as a threat to fundamental human rights across broad topic areas.

This  agenda is subject to scrutiny at the current session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is also happening now. Tomorrow, a U.N. expert tasked with monitoring the human rights of indigenous peoples will present a report on her visit to the United States, in which she explicitly criticizes the administration’s decision to approve construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the “militarized, at times violent, escalation of force by local law enforcement and private security forces.” Last week, a group of human rights experts presented a report, expressing concern regarding “serious issues relating to the arbitrary deprivation of liberty in the United States in the context of immigration, criminal justice, health-related confinement and the situation at Guantanamo Bay.”

The president’s agenda presents no shortage of human rights violations. He has also taken steps to ramp up mass incarceration, as well as escalated the militarization of policing and dismantled community policing initiatives. He has rescinded the DACA program, upending the lives of 800,000 young immigrants, and slashed refugee admissions. He is seeking to legalize discrimination against LGBT people, especially transgender people.

The America that President Trump wants to preserve through isolation and “national sovereignty” is a cover for those who want  to attack vulnerable Americans and undermine democratic freedoms. It is one of many attacks on the basic truth that the United States is a country of immigrants and is greatest when it rejects racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and fear-mongering, because only then can it  serve as an example to the rest of the world.  

So when you hear the president appeal to “sovereignty,” don’t be fooled.  He is using that term to justify violations of human rights in this country and around the world.

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You said "In a world that places sovereignty above all, there can be no conflict resolution or meaningful protections against human rights abuses or authoritarian regimes. Each country could escalate its human rights violations and suppress democratic freedoms within its own borders, immune from external pressure and international accountability."

This is a communist attitude that requires the collective might of the people to march around the world and enforce their vision of the perfect life for humans. This is similar to fascism, dictators and religious governments.

The ACLU should embrace such an attitude that allows me as an American to make the choice to get involved or not. If you take us around the world in more and more "freedom" wars, I don't have a choice once you draft me to believe your beliefs without my consent.


I hear what you are saying, but the flip side is you appear to be comfortable with ethnic cleansing because it is that country's sovereign right to kill off those that they don't like. Your philosophy is why should we push America's philosophy of preserving life on them? Human rights are not a way of life that you infer. They are basic rights of not being tortured, killed, or other atrocities.


Nice Nazi propaganda, bro.

re: Denise

So when I refuse to go fight a war against another nation or people are you going to "politically cleanse" me? Seems to be the same ideology. I agree with you that people suffering unwarranted death and other injustice should be afforded help when they ask for it. However, if I don't want to help then I should have too; as long as I'm directly contributing to the injustice then leave me alone.

People forget:
Communism= give us everything or we will kill you
Fascism/Nazism= look like us or we will kill you
Capitalism= buy our products or we will kill you
Dictatorships= love me or they will kill you
Democracies= once the majority votes we will kill you

All political systems have so far ended with death of groups of people influenced for many reasons from political to religious. Ban all weapons and refuse to kill anyone anytime.


Correction to above.

However, if I don't want to help then I should NOT have too; as long as I'm NOT directly contributing to the injustice then leave me alone.


Typically confusing socialism with communism. The communists are equally authoritarian. Socialism tries to get people to be less selfish and look beyond their selfish needs to those who are more needy. It doesn't force anything but hopes that not everyone is as selfish as you are.

Re: Correction

Everyone is contributing to injustice whether they realise it or not. Unless you are a Native American, as an American citizen, you are contributing to injustice against the indigenous population. The west buys clothing from Asian sweat shops. Tech gadgets from factories where employees are treated like slaves. Pollute's the planet causing issues for peoples elsewhere. White people have institutionalised racism. You are involved even if you don't know it yet. Hiding away from the issues makes you as complicit as those who are explicitly causing them. There is no freedom per se since everyone's actions affects everyone else.


You need to brush up on your understanding of communism. You are way off base.


To the previous anonymous commenter - I'm curious why you posted what you did. The US fought against communism in southeast Asia, in Korea and Vietnam specifically to prevent the spread of communism. And you're saying fighting those wars was itself communist? I'm trying to understand.

This article says nothing about being drafted. It talks about how no nation's sovereignty is greater than its citizens human rights. And that Trump seemed to be saying in the UN speech that it was greater.

Bill Stewart

Trump's threats to use the US Military to invade Venezuela, on the grounds that the country's kleptocracy is bad for its citizens, is directly contradictory to any assertions he might be making about his respect for national sovereignty. Similarly, his threats against Iran and North Korea are also threats against their sovereignty. Does he actually believe what he's saying? Or does he really just mean he doesn't want the UN interfering in the US's behavior?


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