How One Immigrant Highlighted USA’s Draconian Human Rights Record

“Michelle Obama, our beloved First Lady that I care so much about, said: ‘When they go low, we go high.’ And I went as high as I could.”

These were the words of Therese Patricia Okoumou, an immigrant in America who climbed New York’s Statue of Liberty on the 4th of July in a 3-hour protest of Trump’s zero tolerance administration policy.

Prior to scaling the statue, Okoumou was part of a group of protesters known as Rise and Resist, who hung a banner from the statue which said ‘Abolish I.C.E.’ (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Days later, and sporting a black shirt emblazoned with the phrase ‘White Supremacy is Terrorism’, Okoumou, a native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, stood outside a New York courthouse to defend her actions:

“Trump has ripped this country apart. It is depressing. It is outrageous. I can say a lot of things about this monster but I will stop at this: his draconian zero-tolerance policy has to go. In a democracy we do not rip children—we do not put children in cages, period. There is no debating it. Nothing you can say to me will justify putting children in cages. Only a stupid, unintelligent coward and insecure—I will add, a maniac—will rip a tender-aged child from its mother. Reunite the children now.” She stated.

Praised by many as a hero, Okoumou’s lengthy protest brought further media attention to (and international indignation of) the Trump administration’s treatment of families at the US-Mexico border.

Family separation

In late June, after international outcry over his immigration policies which saw children forcibly separated from their parents, US President Donald Trump signed an order that ensured families would be kept together after being detained for illegally crossing the US-Mexican border. Drafted by Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, it was hoped the signing of the executive order would bring an end to the administration’s growing crisis.

The Trump administration maintained that they were left with no choice but to separate the families due to the law, while various news sites shared images of distressed children being kept at border facilities in cages, crying for their parents.

It was argued by the Trump administration that the passing of new legislation would be needed to stop the separations, however politicians such as Senator Jeff Merkley disagree:

Just one day earlier, President Trump blamed the Democrats for the inability to “pass good immigration legislation”, lashing out on Twitter:

Leaving the UN Human Rights Council

This major crisis comes around the time the US decided to leave the UN Human Rights Council, with US envoy Nikki Haley accusing the Council of being a “cesspool of political bias”.

Created in 2006, the goal of the Council is to both promote and protect international human rights, though its powers are not legally binding.

The US decided to withdraw from the Council due to “chronic bias” against Israel, a shift that Reuters described “would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult”.

Speaking at the State Department with US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Haley accused even the Council members for their “appalling disrespect for the most basic rights,” in reference to Cuba, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Reuters highlighted the fact that Haley failed to mention the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia, who killed civilians in the Yemen war.

Further, Haley disputed whether the “disproportionate focus” toward Israel was necessary, arguing that the UN Human Rights Council was “motivated by political bias, not by human rights.”

According to the Times of Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the move; describing the Council as a hypocritical and “anti-Israel” organisation, however the Independent revealed that British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson referred to the decision as “regrettable”.

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.

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