Reactions to last night’s Presidential Debate

by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Co-Coordinator

From a human rights perspective, both candidates were disappointing in last night’s debate. Governor Romney wholeheartedly supported the increased use of drones which has been a cornerstone of President Obama’s approach to combating terrorism; neither candidate talked about the civilian deaths that have been associated with drone strikes nor their violations of international law. Governor Romney was the only candidate to mention human rights nominally, but he immediately extrapolated to “freedom” and “elections,” an extremely limited and insufficient construction of what it means to champion human rights and uphold human dignity. Neither candidate gave sufficient specifics about how to transition out of Afghanistan, although President Obama assured us it should happen “in a responsible” way. President Obama’s comments on Syria were cautious but insufficiently specific, and Governor Romney simply regurgitated a version of the same basic policy approach to Syria, except one more stringently focused on arming the resistance movement. Syria is being ravaged and human rights are being aggressively trampled via indiscriminate air attacks from an unfettered army, but perhaps the focus should be on disarmament of the army and ending arms trade deals via a strong Arms Trade Treaty, which both candidates neglected to mention. Overall the candidates’ foreign policy positions were unsettling in their similar disregard for human rights.

I found one topic of the debate particularly surprising. Governor Romney repeatedly called for indicting Iranian President Ahmadinejad, but to indict him under the Genocide Convention would require Ahmadinejad to be tried in Iran for genocide (unlikely) or by an international tribunal or the International Criminal Court (ICC), to which the U.S. is not a party and for which Governor Romney has not expressed support in past public statements. In post-debate clarifications, Romney aides reportedly suggested that he meant that a World Court would arrest Ahmadinejad. Unfortunately, that’s not the way our international justice system works, and seems out of sorts with how I imagine a Romney administration would approach international law and its enforcement given previous Republican regimes and the Republican Party Platform which definitively rejects the jurisdiction of the ICC. Overall, in their foreign policy discourse the candidates focused too much on solutions that are not accountable to the American people and not considerate of basic human rights.

For a more comprehensive look at the issues of concern to Amnesty activists in this election, check out Amnesty’s human rights bingo:

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Filed under Domestic Politics, Human Rights

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