top of page

The Human Rights Conventions vs. Trump's Isolationism

Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration on Human Rights | UN Photo Media Gallery

With the exception of the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United States has historically been arguably reclusive in participating in international human rights treaties. For instance, the United States has ratified only three out of the nine core international human rights conventions, while most nations are parties to most if not all of the nine [1]. Out of the 193 countries that are member states of the United Nations, the United States is the only member to have yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and remains one of only seven countries that has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) [2].

Unfortunately, President Trump has made it evident that such reclusiveness will continue under his presidency. This was made clear from his message of self-interest over altruism and competition over cooperation during his debut speech at the United Nations [3], as well as other remarks and proposals he has made – including his threats to pull funding from the U.N. if member states do not align with his personal beliefs [4], and his proposed moratorium that could rescind any previous commitments to international treaties made by the U.S. – including potentially withdrawing from the three conventions that the U.S. has ratified [5]. Additionally, many in the Republican controlled Congress share Trump’s isolationists views – with some even proposing to cease U.S. participation in the United Nations altogether [6].

While solely ratifying human rights conventions does not erase the problems that such treaties aim to address, ratification has been a system by which nations may keep each other accountable [7], and not doing so diminishes the United States influence on the global stage for preserving rights [8].

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women Logo

However, it is also inaccurate to state that the human rights framework has no hope of realization in America. Despite U.S. reluctance to ratify international conventions, local advocates have appealed to the standards of such documents to promote justice. For instance, advocates have utilized the Convention Against Torture in their efforts on issues from police brutality [9] to the use of solitary confinement [10] as a tool to gain assistance from the international community on such matters. Movements such as “Cities for CEDAW” are urging local governments to implement the standards of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women as a framework for implementing policy on ending gender-based discrimination - eight Cities have already passed ordinances based on the CEDAW [11].

Such examples demonstrate that while ratification of the conventions is unlikely within the Trump presidency, the human rights framework left in place by the conventions over the past seven decades has provided tools and standards that advocates may utilize and appeal to in an international community where individuals not protected by their governments may find possible respite [12], and while the U.S. continues to be resistant to ratification, there is no reason to conclude that the standards outlined in such conventions will not persist even in the era of Trump’s isolationism.


[1] OHCHR. “Treaty Body Treaties”. (Accessed May 29, 2018).

[2] Human Rights Watch. “United States Ratification of Human Rights Treaties”. Human Rights Watch, July 24, 2009.

[3] David Smith. “Scourge of Our Planet: An Annotated Guide to Donald Trump’s U.N. Speech”. The Guardian, 2017.

[4] Nicole Goodkind. “President Trump Cuts Funding to U.N. After Israel Vote”. Newsweek, December 25, 2017.

[5] Courtenay R. Conrad and Emily Ritter. “A Trump Moratorium on International Treaties Could Roll Back Human Rights – Here at Home”. The Washington Post, March 1, 2017.

[6] Paige Berges. “Republicans Move to Break with the United Nations”. Open Global Rights, March 24, 2017.

[7] Daniel P. L. Chong. Debating Human Rights. (Lynn Rienner Publishing, 2014): 8

[8] Human Rights Watch. “United States Ratification of Human Rights Treaties”.

[9] Justin Hansford and Meena Jagannath. “Ferguson to Geneva: Using the Human Rights Framework to Push Forward a Vision for Racial Justice in the United States After Ferguson”. Poverty Law Journal (2015).

[10] Alexis Agathocleous. “Rampant Use of Solitary Confinement in the U.S. Constitutes Torture”. MSNBC, November 17, 2014.

[11] The Leadership Conference Education Fund. “35 Years Later: The U.S. Still Hasn’t Ratified CEDAW, But Local Activists Are Working to Make a Difference for Women and Girls”. (Accessed June 5, 2018).

[12] Beth A. Simmons. “What’s Right with Human Rights”. Democracy Journal, no. 35 (2015).

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon

Join our mailing list

Never miss an update

bottom of page