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The Company You Keep

April 15, 2010

In December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed its first legally binding multilateral treaty, The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

No treaty could be a clearer response to the treatment of Jews, Slavs, and other ethnic groups at the hands of the Nazis.

Sounds like the kind of convention that all Nazi-smashing Americans can get behind, right?

The debates over the Genocide Convention revealed for the first time the difficulty that some states might have in ratifying a legally binding international human rights treaty. In the United States, the debate over ratification led to one of the most acrimonious discussions surrounding postwar foreign policy of the period. The Genocide Convention was opposed by conservative southerners in the Senate, who were concerned that its provisions might be used to hold individuals accountable in American or international courts for lynching and other forms of racial “justice.” Opponents of the convention raised the specter of federal power overcoming the rights fo the American states in areas dealing with rights. . . [The American Bar Association] was largely responsible for making the arguments that converted a convention outlawing a heinous crime into a “subversive document undermining cherished constitutional rights.” (Beth Simmons 44)

Admittedly, I am not a member of the American Bar Association, but I was not aware that lynching and genocide were ‘cherished constitutional rights.’

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Alternative title for this post: Plus ça change . . .

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