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MU Expert Releases New Book that Examines Human Rights Violations in the U.S.

Oct. 30, 2008

Story Contact:  Jeffrey Beeson, (573) 882-9144,

COLUMBIA, Mo.-After years of the United States pointing fingers at other countries – Iran, China, Darfur – for human rights violations one sociologist at the University of Missouri says it might be time for U.S. officials to look at themselves.

David Brunsma, associate professor of sociology and black studies at MU, recently co-edited and co-authored the book, The Leading Rogue State: The U.S. and Human Rights. The book describes the United States as the rogue, declining to join other nations in United Nations treaties that address rights of children, women and migrant workers, and issues such as global warming, health care, housing and discrimination.

Brunsma says that since World War II, U.S. officials have considered themselves morally committed to democracy and human rights. In fact, it took the lead in sponsoring the formation of the U.N. and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, in the decades following WWII, U.S. officials rarely agreed to ratify human rights protocols sponsored by the U.N.

“At the U.N. there are two stages for establishing protocols: signing and ratification,” Brunsma said. “Ratification is a much stronger step because it declares that the country will take all possible measures to ensure this right.”

According to Brunsma, U.S. officials have signed more protocols than they have ratified. When ratification does occur, a self-executing clause, which declares that the U.S. will uphold international law as long as it doesn’t conflict with domestic law, is included.

“It is a very powerful footnote,” Brunsma said. “Basically, this clause makes anything the U.S. officials sign or ratify moot, putting the U.S. above international law.”

While Brunsma acknowledges that people in other countries are committing terrible human rights violations, he says it is interesting that the U.S. rarely looks inward at domestic issues such as health care, workers’ rights, economic justice and fair elections.

Brunsma says that understanding and changing the human rights issues in the U.S. can better enable the country to lead the rest of the world.

“The U.S. has amazing economic, financial and human resources to lead the pack in advancing human rights,” Brunsma said. “When a state like ours leads the pack, the impact can be huge.”

 Brunsma received his doctorate from Notre Dame University in 1998 and specializes in critical race theory, social psychology, sociology of education and the sociology of culture. His work has been published in Social Science Research, the Sociological Quarterly and The Journal of Educational Research.