Quiz and History for Bill of Rights Day December 15

December 13, 2013

Bill-of-Rights-Founding-Father-President-James-Madison-statue-AP-PhotoImage: James Madison statue in front of Bill of Rights. AP Photo.

We celebrate Bill of Rights Day on December 15 every year in the midst of the bustling holiday season. Although it’s not a Federal holiday, it’s definitely a day for American citizens to commemorate the freedoms we enjoy by law. And no, the right to shop—while popular in America— is not listed in the Bill of Rights!

History of the Bill of Rights

The Founding Fathers drafted the United States Constitution during the First Constitutional Convention, held from May through September 1787 in Philadelphia. The completed draft constitution, sent to the States for ratification in September 1787, did not include any mention of individual rights. The framers’ focus was largely on structuring a strong government, and getting that structure put into place. Without such a structure, the Founding Fathers feared the country’s collapse into chaos or new attacks from outsiders. They left the issue of individual rights without adding it to the Constitution during that meeting.

As a result of this omission, Edmund Randolph, George Mason, and Elbridge Gerry refused to sign the Constitution on principle. Maryland delegates Luther Martin and John Francis Mercer reportedly walked out of the Convention, at least in part because the draft did not include a Bill of Rights. In September, Randolph, Mason and Gerry joined in asking for a second constitutional convention to address the issue of personal rights. All three men advocated strongly for a bill of rights throughout most of the constitutional convention. The people ultimately adopted the Constitution, sans any bill of rights, on September 17, 1787. Eleven states ratified it and it went into effect in 1789.

Founding Father James Madison was a delegate from Virginia who had been a key actor and speaker at the First Constitutional Convention. He had held onto the idea of the individual freedoms as discussed at that Convention. Although Federalist Madison was originally a skeptic about needing a Bill of Rights, like Randolph, Mason and Gerry he came to believe that the inclusion of personal rights was imperative to be added to the United States Constitution.

quote-enlightened-statesmen-will-not-always-be-at-the-helm-President-James-MadisonImage courtesy IZQuotes.

In Madison’s view, the value of a listing of rights was:

  • in part educational for the populace under this new form of Government,
  • in part as a vehicle that might be used to rally people against a future oppressive Government when “less enlightened statesmen” may be in power,
  • and finally–in an argument borrowed from Thomas Jefferson–Madison argued that a declaration of rights would help install the judiciary as “guardians” of individual rights against the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal Government.

Thus, while serving in the first U.S. House of Representatives, Madison framed and introduced the Bill of Rights as legislative articles to amend the Constitution on June 8, 1789.

He used as a model George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, written in May 1776, and also based his legislative articles in part on the English Bill of Rights (1689), the Magna Carta and other documents.

Painting-Adoption-of-VA-Declaration-of-RightsImage: This painting, The Adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, depicting the adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights by the fifth Virginia Revolutionary Convention was made by Jack Clifton in 1974. It now hangs in the Virginia State Capitol. Courtesy: Virginia Memory online exhibit of the Library of Virginia.

What rights are in Bill of Rights?

Painting-of-James-Madison-reading-Bill-of-Rights-to-First-CongressMadison included in his articles a list of rights of the individual, such as free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, free assembly, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and others, as well as some limits on government powers.

Image on the right: Madison reading his Bill of Rights to Congress. Courtesy: University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

On August 21, 1789, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted Madison’s articles, proposed them in a joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and finally ratified them on December 15, 1791.

The Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and is a key “fundamental document” of the United States Federal government.

Cartoon of the Bill of Rights depicting the first 10 Amendments to the US Constitution. From a 1971 Teacher's Guide transparency for "Young Citizen"

Image: Bill of Rights depicted in cartoon format from 1971 Young Citizen teacher’s guide transparency. Courtesy: Syracuse University. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE and for teacher printable version.

  • First Amendment:  Freedom of Religion, Speech, and Press, the Right to Assemble Peaceably and to Petition the Government “for a redress of grievances.
  • Second Amendment: Right to Keep and Bear Arms- “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
  • Third Amendment: Quartering of Troops- “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
  • Fourth Amendment: Search and Seizure- “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
  • Fifth Amendment: Grand Jury, Double Jeopardy, Self-Incrimination, Due Process
  • Sixth Amendment: Criminal Prosecutions – Right to  a speedy public trial by an impartial jury, to confront witnesses and to counsel for defense.
  • Seventh Amendment: Common Law Suits –Right to a Trial by Jury
  • Eighth Amendment: No Excessive Bail or Fines or Cruel and Unusual Punishment- “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
  • Ninth Amendment: Non-Enumerated Rights or “Rule of Construction of the Constitution”-  “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
  • Tenth Amendment: States’ Rights- Rights not explicitly delegated to the Federal Government in the Constitution are reserved to the States or to the People.

Where can you learn more about the Bill of Rights?

US-Constitution-and-Declaration-of-Independence-Pocket-Guide_I9780160891847 Buy at the US Government Online Bookstore http://bookstore.gpo.gpvIf you want to learn more about the Bill of Rights, an excellent place to start would be reading the source document, the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence; the GPO U.S. Government Bookstore sells a handy Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence Pocket Edition. The full text of the ten amendments of the Bill of Rights is there for you to read and study.

US Citizenship and Immigration Service Civics Flash Cards for the US Naturalization Test ISBN-9780160904608 Available from GPO's US Government Bookstore a http://bookstore.gpo.govImage courtesy Citizenship Guru.

Kids in school, or adults wanting to revisit the fundamentals they learned in civics classes, can learn a lot from the Civics Flash Cards for the U.S. Naturalization Test (English Version)—and obviously the target audience, U.S. residents who want to become American citizens, will benefit from studying these, too.

Spanish-Civics-Flash-Cards-for-US-naturalization-test Tarjetas de Educación Cívica ISBN 9780160902048 Available from the US Government Bookstore at http://bookstore.gpo.govIf you’re more comfortable reading en español, you can study using the same flash cards in Spanish: Tarjetas de Educación Cívica para el Exámen de Naturalización to cover the same material.

You can also listen to the same questions in English on the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) website. (I didn’t see them offered in Spanish on their site, though.) If you’re cramming for the naturalization or a civics exam, listening to the questions is excellent reinforcement for your study plan.

Mini-Quiz from the Citizenship Test

Civics-Flash-Cards-Question-38If you’ve already read this post, or studied the Constitution, you will probably ace questions #1 and #2 of the United States naturalization test for citizenship:

  1. “What is the supreme law of the land?”
  2. “What does the Constitution do?”
  3. “What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?” (Bonus points if you get the answer to this question #5 correct!)

(Answers: 1- The Constitution. 2- Sets up the government; Defines the government; Protects basic rights of Americans. 3- The Bill of Rights, of course! )

For even more challenging questions based on the U.S. Citizenship test, take our fun Quiz: Are you smarter than an 8th grade Civics student?

In-depth civics questions can be answered by the capsule summary answers to the questions in Learn About the United States: Quick Civics Lesson for the Naturalization Test 2013 (Book Plus CD). Students need to know the principles and background behind the answers, not just the answers themselves, obviously.

Question six asks, “What is ONE right or freedom from the First Amendment?” The text lists the possible answers, and then relates the reasons for the guarantee of those freedoms. The authors explain freedom of expression as follows:

“The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights protects a person’s right to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression allows open discussion and debate on public issues. Open discussion and debate are important to democracy.”

You’ll definitely have a thorough grounding in the basics of American Federal government by the time you’re done with the lesson.

The Right to Exercise… Your Rights, That Is

Exercise your right to open discussion by reading some of these documents, and talking to friends about them. If you are a school student, maybe you’ll have an opportunity to write about the Bill of Rights or the freedoms the Bill of Rights guarantee.

1963-2013-Civil-Rights-logoIn this year, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of three significant events from the Civil Rights movement— the March on Washington for Rights and Freedom, the murder of African-American civil rights activist Medgar Evers who was involved in efforts to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi, and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama— it’s a good time to reflect on our civil rights and liberties, and how lucky we are to have them.

Image: Civil Rights Movement 50th Anniversary logo. Courtesy: City of Birmingham, Alabama

How can you obtain official publications that explain the Bill of Rights and other documents of American rights?

About the author(s): Adapted by Government Book Talk Editor-in-Chief and the US Government Printing Office (GPO) Promotions & Ecommerce Manager, Michele Bartram, from an original blog post by Jennifer K. Davis from GPO’s Library Services & Content Management Division that supports the Federal Depository Libraries Program (FDLP). Happy holidays from us both!


Remembering Camelot: Best of the old and new official publications about John F. Kennedy

November 19, 2013

For the World War II generation, it was December 7, 1941 that was a “date which will live in infamy.” For today’s Americans it is September 11, 2001. For my parents’ generation, November 22, 1963, is the infamous day that everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is one of the most historic—and horrific— days of the 20th century, and its impact is still being felt today.  It’s hard to believe it has been 50 years this week since the tragic events unfolded in Dallas, Texas.

In commemoration of this important milestone in our Nation’s history, the U.S. Government Printing Office has assembled a number of Official Federal publications that help us reflect on the huge legacy left by “JFK” in his short but impactful 1,000 days in office.

JFK as a Senator and Presidential Candidate

When John F. Kennedy was running for President, he was a United States Senator from Massachusetts.  These publications give insight to the man during this period of transition from active Senator to President-elect.

Getting To Know the President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952-2004, including John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton. ISBN 9781929667192Senate, 1789-1989, Volume 3: Classic Speeches, 1830-1993 contains the text of some of the most famous speeches by United States Senators, including a young Senator John F. Kennedy.

Getting To Know the President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates, 1952-2004 (Paperback) and the Audiobook-MP3 edition are new publications that tell the story of how the CIA and the US Intelligence Community begin to brief Presidential candidates and Presidents-elect, including JFK and Lyndon Johnson, on vital intelligence issues even before they take office.

JFK’s Army for World Peace

?????????Image: Candidate Senator John F. Kennedy at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Source: JFK Library

Two weeks after an improvised presidential campaign speech in October 1960 to a crowd of 10,000 cheering students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor where he asked “How many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?” Senator Kennedy proposed “a peace corps of talented men and women” who would dedicate themselves to the progress and peace of developing countries.  Encouraged by more than 25,000 letters responding to his call, newly elected President Kennedy took immediate action to make the campaign promise a reality and established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, with his brother-in-law, R. Sargent Shriver, as its leader.

A Life Inspired: Tales of Peace Corps ServiceThe lasting legacy of the Peace Corps’ and its ongoing inspiration to America’s younger generations is clearly shown in these two books. A Life Inspired: Tales of Peace Corps Service (Paperback) (it also available as an eBook) is a collection of autobiographical reminiscences by 28 former Peace Corps volunteers, while Crossing Cultures With the Peace Corps: Peace Corps Letters From the Field is a collection of actual letters from Peace Corps volunteers serving in various nations.

JFK’s Foreign Policy: Cold War Warrior

President Kennedy was confronted with some dramatic foreign policy issues from his first days in office, not least of which was how to avoid nuclear war with the Soviet Union over their missiles in Cuba.

History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense: The McNamara Ascendancy, 1961-1965 (eBook) John F. Kennedy isbn 999-000-55551-6History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense: The McNamara Ascendancy, 1961-1965 (eBook) tells the story of Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, including his relationship with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the transformation of the Department of Defense as a part of Kennedy’s New Frontier, and the Pentagon’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bay of Pigs episode, and the onset of the Vietnam War.

More than a mere historical text, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, Vol. 8, 1961-1964 provides a fascinating inside look at the Joint Chiefs’ participation and their point-of-view in dealing with the following foreign crises from the U.S.S.R. arms race, Berlin Wall construction, Cuba, to Laos, expansion of NATO, support for Israel, and more – while working with new thinking in the Kennedy and Johnson presidential administrations.

Part of the Department of State’s famous Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) Series, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963, V. 5, Soviet Union presents a full accounting of the overall nature and structure of United States-Soviet relations that made up the Kennedy Administration’s Cold War diplomacy. It also refers to some of the intelligence and analysis of the initial build-up of Soviet missiles in Cuba that ultimately led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the complete official record of President Kennedy’s meetings with Soviet Chairman Premier Nikita Khrushchev at the Vienna Summit Conference, June 3-4, 1961.

Penetrating the Iron Curtain: Resolving the Missile Gap With Technology (Book and DVD)  ISBN: 9780160920547For more in-depth information about the Cuban Missile crisis and Cold War Kennedy style, read the new Penetrating the Iron Curtain: Resolving the Missile Gap With Technology (Book and DVD)  from the CIA which contains analysis and hundreds of recently declassified intelligence documents about the Soviet missile build-up and perceived US missile gap.

CIA Analysis of the Warsaw Pact Forces: The Importance of Clandestine Reporting (Book and DVD)  ISBN: 9780160920509Also interesting is the recently released CIA Analysis of the Warsaw Pact Forces: The Importance of Clandestine Reporting (Book and DVD) which studies the reaction by the Soviets to the West’s formation of NATO including West Germany by establishing a military bloc of Communist nations with the Warsaw Treaty of May 1955. This study continues CIA’s efforts to provide a detailed record of the intelligence derived from clandestine human and technical sources from that period.

A City Torn Apart: Building of the Berlin Wall (Book and DVD) ISBN: 9780160920455Many around the world have heard the famous quote from the Kennedy anti-Communist speech at the Berlin Wall on June 26, 1963, in which he says: “Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’” The Berlin Wall became a symbol of Cold War hostilities between the US and the Soviets.  A City Torn Apart: Building of the Berlin Wall (Book and DVD) is a new multimedia book with DVD that covers the period of 1945 to the end of 1961, during the Kennedy administration with a vast collection of recently declassified CIA documents, videos, and photographs that show Berlin’s journey from a battered post war region occupied by the Allies to a city literally divided – with its western half becoming an island of freedom surrounded by a sea of Communist repression.

How JFK inspired America to “Send a Man on the Moon”

In response to both real and perceived Soviet threats, President Kennedy gave his “Urgent National Needs” speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, where he stated that “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this [1960s] decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”  This statement turned to real policy and eventually manned missions to the moon. JFK’s lasting legacy to the U.S. space program is incalculable.

Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the United States Civil Space Program: V. VII: Human Spaceflight: Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo NASA History Series ISBN 780160813818the U.S. Civil Space Program: V. I: Organizing for Exploration  is part of the NASA historical collection and provides a selection of expert essays and key official documents about the organizational development of NASA and the U.S. civil space program, including Senator then President Kennedy’s memos and inspirational speeches and Vice President Johnson’s early involvement that intensified after becoming President.

Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the United States Civil Space Program: V. VII: Human Spaceflight: Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo  expands Kennedy’s vision of manned spaceflight into reality with Projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, providing essays and the key documents that outlined manned space program budgets, proposals, and even the selection of lunar landing spots and choices of symbolic items to bring to the moon.

NASA's First 50 Years: Historical Perspectives; NASA 50 Anniversary Proceedings ISBN: 9780160849657In this thoughtful retrospective, NASA’s First 50 Years: Historical Perspectives; NASA 50 Anniversary Proceedings, a wide array of scholars turn a critical eye toward the achievements of NASA’s first 50 years, probing an institution widely seen as the premier agency for exploration in the world, carrying on a long tradition of exploration by the United States and the human species in general.

Civil Rights and the Brothers Kennedy

After the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, desegregation was a slow process in many Southern school districts and universities.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library's account of James Meredith, the African-American student whose attempt to register at the University of Mississippi in 1962 led to a showdown between state and federal authorities and the storming of the campus by a segregationist mob. JFK Library "Ole Miss" micrositeImage: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library’s account of James Meredith, the African-American student whose attempt to register at the University of Mississippi in 1962 led to a showdown between state and federal authorities and the storming of the campus by a segregationist mob. Source: JFK Library “Ole Miss” microsite

By President Kennedy’s election, civil rights activists were pushing for more equality, resulting in violent attacks and confrontations by staunch segregationists that required Federal involvement such as Federal marshals being called in by JFK’s brother and Attorney General Robert Kennedy to protect Alabama freedom riders, as well as forced integration at “Ole Miss” University of Mississippi.

Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1945-1992 ISBN: 0-16-072361-2 and 0-16-072364-7The book Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1945-1992 (Paperback) and (Hardcover) chronicles the U.S. Army’s response to major social events in contemporary American society, particularly the civil rights movement, including the integration showdown at the University of Mississippi in 1962 and other racial disturbances of the 1960s, all the way to the 1992 race riot in Los Angeles.

The End of Camelot

The practice of referring to the Kennedy Administration as Camelot came from a post-assassination interview for Life magazine with First Lady Jacqueline (Jackie) Kennedy, who referred to the years of Kennedy’s presidency before his assassination as an “American Camelot.”  She said that President Kennedy was fond of the music to the popular 1960-63 smash Broadway musical, Camelot, the lyrics of which were penned by Kennedy’s Harvard classmate, Alan Jay Lerner.  The First Lady mentioned that the President and she often listened to a recording of the hit title song before going to sleep, with JFK  particularly enjoying the phrase: “Don’t ever let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” Once the article was released, other journalists picked up on Mrs. Kennedy’s reference, and the world has used it ever since.

First Ladies by the White House Historical Association ISBN 9780912308838Jackie Kennedy’s historic role as First Lady is outlined in the beautifully done First Ladies of the United States of America book by the White House Historical Association which profiles the many courageous First Ladies, from Martha Washington to Jacqueline Kennedy, up to Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush.

The end of Camelot came with President Kennedy’s assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald. Afterwards, President Lyndon Johnson created a commission, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren to investigate the events that led to the assassination and any possible conspiracies.

The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) produced, in what was perhaps its single most important publication of the 1960s, the official results of this investigation in the Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy.  It became known unofficially as the Warren Commission Report or the Warren Report, named for Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren who chaired the commission.

C732-1-WH64Image: Chief Justice Earl Warren presenting the Final Report of The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy– printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office. September 24, 1964. Source: White House

Before it was released to the public on September 27, 1964, special security measures were set up at GPO to prevent any unauthorized disclosure of the manuscript.  A half century later, GPO is releasing a FREE digital version of the full, 900-page original Warren Commission Report from GPO’s FDsys (Federal Digital System) database.

Today it is still fascinating to re-live the events surrounding the events in Dallas in 1963 from eye witnesses.  In addition to witness testimony, the Report contains numerous photos, maps, diagrams, and illustrations.

The post-President Kennedy assassination audio tape recordings of conversations between various individuals in Washington, DC, and Air Force One pilots and officials on board during the flight from Dallas to Andrews Air Force Base are also available on FDsys.

johnjr-salutes-dad-jfkImage: John F. Kennedy, Jr. salutes his father’s coffin at President Kennedy’s funeral, with his widow First Lady Jacqueline (Jackie) Kennedy, daughter Caroline, and brothers Edward (Ted) Kennedy and Robert (Bobby) Kennedy.

These Official publications are part of the legacy of President John F. Kennedy and help us remember his 1,000 days of an American Camelot.

HOW DO I OBTAIN THESE JFK PUBLICATIONS?

You can find these official John F. Kennedy publications by clicking on the links above or through any of these methods:

  • Shop Online Anytime: Buy them online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore under the 35- John F. Kennedy collection (found under the US & Military History category Presidential History section).
  • Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.
  • Visit our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.
  • Go to a Library: GPO provides copies of these publications to Federal Depository libraries worldwide. Find them in a library near you.

About the Author: Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

August 15, 2012

After watching Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s interview about the State Department’s release of their Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010, I had to blog about this important annual publication.

Image: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presents latest Annual Human Rights Report (Read her remarks here.). Source:  State Department

In its 35th year for 2010, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices are Congressionally mandated reports produced by the U.S. Department of State that provide encyclopedic detail on human rights conditions in each of the 194 countries that are members of the United Nations.

The 2010 version available from GPO is a two-volume set that provides an overview of the human rights situation around the world as a means to raise awareness of human rights conditions, in particular as these conditions affect the well-being of women, children, racial and religious minorities, trafficking victims, members of indigenous groups and ethnic communities, persons with disabilities, sexual minorities, refugees, and members of other vulnerable groups.  Grouped by region, the country reports detail the situation in each member nation, and the set also provides an introduction and preface describing overall trends as well as detailed appendices.

What are Human Rights?

With the end of World War II, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed to never allow atrocities like those experienced during the war to happen again. World leaders decided to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere, with the resulting document becoming The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 Image: In 1950, on the second anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, students at the UN International Nursery School in New York viewed a poster of the historic document. Source: United Nations

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proposed 64 years ago next month and adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. This defines the following universal human rights across all members of the United Nations:

Image: Universal human rights. Source: Jayara9re

The Best and the Worst List

The Country Reports also serve as a progress report in relation to previous years by outlining which countries are improving and which are backsliding as far as human rights are concerned. The 2010 reports praise Colombia, Guinea, and Indonesia for their marked improvements shown that year, and notes Ukraine for backsliding. Check the book for details on each country’s status.

Image: Human rights protestor in Syria holds sign in English aimed to worldwide audiences and media. Source: My San Antonio blog.

Three Trends Affecting Human Rights

The 2010 report discusses three important trends from the year including:

1)      Persecution of Vulnerable Groups: the continuing rise of violence, persecution, and official and societal discrimination of members of vulnerable groups, often racial, religious, or ethnic minorities or disempowered majorities;

2)      Repression of Civil Society and Growth of Advocacy Groups: the repression of civil society in different countries and the explosive growth of non-governmental advocacy organizations focused on a wide range of democracy and human rights issues and causes; and

3)      Rise of Web and Mobile Technology: “the dramatic growth of the Internet, mobile phones, and other connective technologies that allow instantaneous communications to billions of people across the globe.”

Further information on all three of these trends is more fully documented in the Introduction to this year’s report, as well as in specific country reports.

Persecution of “Vulnerable Groups”

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010 outlined the negative trend of the continuing escalation of violence, persecution, and official and societal discrimination of members of vulnerable groups, often racial, religious, or ethnic minorities or disempowered majorities.

In many countries this pattern of discrimination extended to women; children; persons with disabilities; indigenous; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons; and members of other vulnerable groups who lacked the political power to defend their own interests.

The report also notes that “often members of these groups were denied economic opportunity or the ability to abide by their social or cultural traditions or practices or were restricted in their ability to speak freely, to assemble peacefully, or to form associations or organizations.”

For example, the report notes that there is increasing exploitation of laborers and threats against workers for attempting to unionize in many countries, as well as increasing violence against members of the LGBT community.

Image: LGBT Human rights protestors in Honduras hold sign saying “Nuestros derechos también son humanos.” (“Our rights are also human.”). Source:  Ultima Hora (Honduras)

Civil societies rebel against repression: The rise of the “Arab Spring”

By the end of 2010 which is when this report finishes, the issues relating to repression of civil society were giving rise to the so-called “Arab Spring.” Maria Otero, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs at the U.S. State Department, noted that this report captured these conditions in Egypt and Iran that were leading to protests, and “some of the areas we are seeing changing in the Middle East as demonstrating the inability in those of societies of civil societies to express themselves as one of the problems that emerged.”

Tools of rebellion: The Internet, social media and mobile technology

One of the more interesting trends that added fuel to these rebellions was a key theme in the 2010 report, namely “the explosive way in which the Internet, mobile phones, and other types of types of technologies have emerged in order for different groups to be able to use them to promote democracy and to promote human rights.”

Image: Protestor holds sign that points out the importance of social media today to civil protests and movements. Source:  Linney Group

Smartphone-based social media such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs played a critical role in extending the reach of opposition messages, which was validated by the University of Washington’s Project on Information Technology and Political Islam which assembled and analyzed data from more than 3 million tweets, gigabytes of YouTube content and thousands of blog posts about Tunisia and Egypt prior to the crisis in each country.

Image: Protester in Egypt holds up home-made sign at a protest rally that mentions both Facebook and the Egyptian uprising organizers’ Twitter hashtag #jan25. Inspired by the successful Tunisian Arab Spring revolution hashtag, #sidibouzid, the Egyptian hashtag #jan25 stands for January 25, 2011, the date the organizers launched the Egyptian civil uprising in Tahir Square. Photo by Essam Sharaf.

Who should read this?

Maria Otero says the State Department team sees this report as a “way of providing credible thoughtful, analytical information to all of those people around the world, whether it is non-governmental organizations, universities, other governments who are specifically looking at this issue.”

But in addition to serving scholars, reporters and analysts looking at the past, Otero says the State Department uses these reports as a source of information for present and future U.S. policy making, and sees them as a way activists and policy developers in this and other countries can help their own governments identify and decrease whatever abuses may exist, while at the same time increasing their own capacity to protect and to address the issues of human rights in their own countries.

It shows that there’s nothing wrong with reading about rights!

HOW CAN YOU OBTAIN a copy of the two-volume set of Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010?

  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.
  • Find it in a library.

To find more U.S. government reports and publications about human rights reports,browse our online bookstore and search on “human rights”.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


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