Civil Rights as Human Rights

by H. Timothy Lovelace, Jr.

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Abstract

During the early 1960s, government officials in the U.S. Department of State grappled with the following quandary: How could the United States shape and lead a racially diverse world while still denying rights to Black Americans domestically? One way the State Department set out to resolve this disconnect was through diplomacy and negotiations at the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which crafted the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Although extensive documentation exists on the exchanges between the Sub-Commission, the State Department, and the U.S. civil rights community, existing literature fails to examine these rich exchanges in sufficient detail. This Article explores how the United States shaped international human rights regimes through the Sub- Commission, and, in turn, how international affairs shaped the U.S. civil rights movement.

One underexplored aspect of the interplay between the U.S. civil rights movement and the international human rights regime is how the State Department interfaced with the Sub-Commission. By exploring the exchanges between the two high-profile civil rights lawyers the State Department sent to negotiate with the Sub-Commission and other actors at the United Nations, this Article highlights the tension between these lawyers’ values and the U.S. diplomatic agenda. This tension in turn magnifies how the U.S. civil rights movement and the international human rights regime shaped one another.

The history of how the U.S. delegation sought to imbue the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination with U.S. values remains central to this Article’s discussion. And, at the heart of this contribution was the importation of the state action doctrine. Thus, the doctrine that had vexed civil rights activists’ domestic litigation for decades became enshrined in the international human rights regime. This Article explores the role that the state action doctrine played in the reciprocal relationship between the U.S. civil rights movement and the international human rights regime.

Civil Rights as Human Rights

by H. Timothy Lovelace, Jr.

Click here for a PDF file of this article

Abstract

During the early 1960s, government officials in the U.S. Department of State grappled with the following quandary: How could the United States shape and lead a racially diverse world while still denying rights to Black Americans domestically? One way the State Department set out to resolve this disconnect was through diplomacy and negotiations at the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which crafted the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. Although extensive documentation exists on the exchanges between the Sub-Commission, the State Department, and the U.S. civil rights community, existing literature fails to examine these rich exchanges in sufficient detail. This Article explores how the United States shaped international human rights regimes through the Sub- Commission, and, in turn, how international affairs shaped the U.S. civil rights movement.

One underexplored aspect of the interplay between the U.S. civil rights movement and the international human rights regime is how the State Department interfaced with the Sub-Commission. By exploring the exchanges between the two high-profile civil rights lawyers the State Department sent to negotiate with the Sub-Commission and other actors at the United Nations, this Article highlights the tension between these lawyers’ values and the U.S. diplomatic agenda. This tension in turn magnifies how the U.S. civil rights movement and the international human rights regime shaped one another.

The history of how the U.S. delegation sought to imbue the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination with U.S. values remains central to this Article’s discussion. And, at the heart of this contribution was the importation of the state action doctrine. Thus, the doctrine that had vexed civil rights activists’ domestic litigation for decades became enshrined in the international human rights regime. This Article explores the role that the state action doctrine played in the reciprocal relationship between the U.S. civil rights movement and the international human rights regime.