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  September 19, 2016

Green Party VP Ajamu Baraka on Human Rights Violations in the United States

In an interview with Sharmini Peries, Baraka discusses Black Lives Matters, the Flint water crisis, shelter, immigration, and more
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Ajamu Baraka is an internationally recognized human rights defender whose experience spans four decades of domestic and international activism. Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. His latest publications include contributions to two recently published books "magine: Living in a Socialist USA" and "Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral."


SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s The Real News Network, I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Joining me, today, in our Baltimore Studios, is the Green Party Vice Presidential nominee, Ajamu Baraka. He has, for four decades, fought for our human rights right here in the U.S., not to mention the world over. Thanks for joining me, today, Mr. Baraka.

AJAMU BARAKA: Its my pleasure to be here.

PERIES: So, Mr. Baraka, when we think of human rights we normally think of the rest of the world: Haiti, some of the poorer nations, India, and of course, right now, the crisis in Syria, and so forth. We don’t think about it in terms of the human rights violations, right here in the United States. And you’ve spent many decades fighting for those rights. Tell us about why you have focused on that.

BARAKA: Well, as your question indicates, when most people think of human rights, and human rights violations, they tend to think of those things happening outside of the U.S. We know that is not true. The U.S. is involved – has been involved – in numerous human rights issues and violations, vis-à-vis people in this country, as sole citizens, but of course worldwide. So, what we have been doing for the last few decades is operating from the radical perspective provided by the work of people like, W.B. Dubois and Malcolm X, who understood that the human rights framework was a framework that was relevant to us, in this country, African-Americans in particular.

We have been shining a light on the U.S. We have said that there has to be one standard for all nations. So, we have been applying international human rights standards and laws the behavior of the U.S. state, domestically and internationally, but primarily, domestically. That was the basis of the work that we did in developing the U.S. Human Rights Network, which was the first network of organizations committed to applying human rights standards to the U.S.

PERIES: Now, give me some examples of the kinds of issues you have worked on, in the U.S.

BARAKA: The death penalty, for example. The ever-present State violence directed at, not only African-Americans, but minority populations here, in this country. The mass incarceration industry here, in this country. The systematic non-recognition of the human right to things like, water, healthcare – all of the economic, social and cultural rights – education. These are all rights that we are supposed to have but the State does not recognize those rights. Part of what we have doing – not just dealing with those particular issues – but also educating people in this country on the fact that they have these objective human rights that U.S. State does not let them know about. So, every issue that one can imagine – from the environment, to the right to leisure, to have time off, we have worked on, here, in this country.

PERIES: When it comes to specific issues, lets take the Detroit water crisis and the right to clean water, something that is internationally secured by the U.N. Yet, here right in the United States, the greatest-richest country in the world, has a problem in terms of making sure that the water that people are getting from their taps are clean and free of harmful material that has put our children at risk. What’s the problem with this kind of international policy that’s not fully endorsed and embraced by the governments of this great country?

BARAKA: Well, actually, interestingly enough, when I was actually running the U.S. Human Rights Network, we were the ones instrumental in bringing the special repertoire to the U.S. to deal with this issue of the right to water and sanitation. That’s been one of the efforts that we were engaged in to reframe that issue, to reframe it, in fact, as a human rights issue. The fact that we have people in these large, metropolitan areas, who are not allowed, or who don’t have access, to clean water, threatens their health, threatens the health of the entire community, threatens the life of, really, the entire country. So, we have raised that as an issue, its an example of the kinds of issue that should be reframed into the human rights framework that they really are.

PERIES: When you take the international convention on cultural and political rights, and the way in which the black power movement or the Black Lives Matter movement, is expressing itself, today, in this country, which is guarded by this convention, how do you see communicating with the public to inform that what Black Lives are doing and what the former Black Power movement have done in this country, are within their internationally protected rights?

BARAKA: That is part of the reframing. That’s part of the redefinition of the work of social justice, here, in this country. That the social justice, human rights, and the movement for pro-democracy are all inter-related. In fact, they are part of the broader human rights framework. What we call, the people-centered human rights framework. That perspective, that language is what informs most of the radical movement in this country, particularly, with black folks. So, you see that for example the movement for black lives and the Black Lives Matter folks have all embraced using human rights language. That’s a good thing because, not only does it reframe the issues of the U.S. but it connects them to the entire world. We know that the human rights framework is the language of social justice that’s used around the world. That’s part of the connection, part of traditional, black internationalism, if you will, that has been part of our movement here in this country. That reframing is important, more people understanding that they, in fact, have right beyond just the constitution.

Its important because even issues related to immigration and the rights of migrant workers, we have the framing of those issues within the context of U.S. constitutional law. But there’s a whole host of laws. Human rights laws and standards that apply to those issues. The social movement legislators are not really that familiar with the integral nature of that framework, therefore, they don’t appeal to it. What we’ve been trying to do, over the years, is to make more and more people aware of this framework so they can use that in their agitation, and advocacy work, and organizing work.

PERIES: Now, Baraka, just a few nights ago you spent the night right across the street here, at the Healthcare for the Homeless. This is a huge problem in this country, not only for the people that you slept with, but also, for many inner-city populations and including an issue for the returning veterans, in this country, who are not assisted in terms of resettling in the country and having basic shelter. How do you, in the Green party, plan to address this problem?

BARAKA: That is one of the issues that we plan to focus on if we, in fact, win. It is a shame that we have more than a half a million people, in this country, who, every night, don’t know where they’re going to lay their head that evening. So, the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of individuals who are walking the streets of this city is something that we have to address. We believe and embrace the human rights framework and the right to housing is a fundamental right. So, we are going to ensure that we have sufficient resources, from the federal level, directed towards addressing this issue. We are going to try to persuade state and local governments to get serious about this issue.

The fact that, not only are they not seriously addressing the issue of homelessness, in terms of providing shelters, the response for many of these local governments has been to further criminalize homelessness. Which means they are criminalizing poverty by these sweeps, by these draconian laws that, if you lay down and then you put a cover over yourself, then you are basically camping, therefore, are subject to arrest. So, this kind of shameless behavior on the part of local governments and neglect that we have from the State, we’re going to address that.

Having a chance to spend one night, it was only one night, really was an eye-opener. In terms of looking at what people have to go through, on a nightly basis. Just in the first three hours, we had a drug overdose, right there where we were at. Two hours later, there was a raid from some bounty hunters who were looking for someone and they came through and started ripping up people’s tents looking for this individual, not respecting the rights and the property of folks who are forced to live on the streets. This is the reality that people face, every evening. We talked to people who have been on the streets for years: thirteen years, six years, four years. That’s their new reality. But most of us in this country, we see people who are homeless and we look away. But we have a chance to spend time and to listen to their stories. You understand the issues, you understand the neglect from the State. It is something that will really motivate one to really spend a lot more time and energy to do away with this backward practice.

PERIES: Ajamu Baraka, thank you, so much for joining us, today.

BARAKA: My pleasure to be here. Thank you.

PERIES: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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