Warko / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
A world map showing images of human rights violations and the work of all the truth and reconciliation commissions, located at the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago, Chile. (Warko / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0))
JAMIL RAGLAND

I don’t want to vote for Joe Biden. Based on his record and his current statements, I don’t think he’ll make the changes necessary to truly protect all Americans. When I’ve shared this opinion, many people have asked me to vote for Biden anyway. He’s not perfect, they say, but we can’t let Trump win!

So fine. I’ll give Biden a shot, but only if he can demonstrate that he’s changed. He can prove it by announcing his support for a truth and reconciliation commission that will investigate the human rights abuses the United States has committed against people of color and women, and support the implementation of its findings.

Truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs) are bodies designed to make a formal record of human rights abuses committed by governments, and help begin the reconciliation process through truthful accounting and accountability. TRCs operate by inviting all parties – victims, abusers and witnesses – to offer their version of events in testimony. TRCs also conducts research and reviews records.

The most famous example of a TRC is the South African model, which looked into the specific abuses of apartheid. However, other countries have instituted commissions as well, including East Timor and our northern neighbor, Canada.

While other commissions have been primarily focused on racial and ethnic conflict, an American TRC must also address the human rights abuses women continue to experience in the United States as well. From Breonna Taylor’s murder (and the continued freedom of her killers) to the forcible hysterectomies performed on immigrant women, the intersection of race and gender in oppression is undeniable.

These examples also show that human rights abuses continue today. In fact, the United States is in violation of several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at this very moment. Therefore, the American version of a truth and reconciliation commission must meaningfully address current abuses. A TRC can ensure these abuses are addressed with:

1) A formal apology for the continued human rights abuses committed against people of color and women – The government of the United States has never formally apologized for the genocide committed against native peoples, the enslavement of Africans (one chamber of Congress does not count), the disenfranchisement of women, nor many of the other abuses it supported by law and deed. A true reconciliation process requires that the abusers admit wrongdoing and seek forgiveness through actions.

2) A plan for reparations, for both people of color and women – Yes, reparations. Women and people of color are underpaid to this day. When combined with the centuries of free labor extracted from us, you begin to get an inkling of an idea of how much wealth has been stolen from us. Direct payments will be part of it, but true reparations will mean that the resources of the American government are used for the benefit of all people from now on.

3) A strategy to fix current human rights abuses by 2030 – Addressing systemic racism and sexism in the United States requires urgent, focused action. The commission’s goal is to document the history of abuses so that solutions can address real problems. The commission must be completed in a timely manner, and its recommendations implemented just as quickly. A massive task such as this can be done quickly and well, if resourced properly.

4) Accountability for perpetrators, enablers, and supporters of human rights abuses – One of the major criticisms of the South African model was that few people were ultimately held accountable. A lack of accountability is also a feature of the American political system. Despite our track record, the American TRC must have the authority to inflict penalties on people who are shown to perpetrate, enable, and support human rights abuses. Ultimately, the only way to fix systemic racism and sexism is to remove and punish people who participate in racism and sexism. The commission can be the tool to accomplish that goal.

Support for a true reckoning with America’s human rights abuses, and a plan to fix them, would be a clear break with the Biden of the last 50 years. His support would show me that he’s willing to make the government acknowledge its role in perpetuating racism and sexism. That would be a key first step in changing the government into an institution which serves all Americans. We don’t need a new President of the same old system.

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

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