Multilateral Human Rights Treaties Ratified by the U.S.

The U.S. is a party to at least 19 significant multilateral human rights treaties.[1]

Three of them have been reviewed in posts regarding their complex and lengthy U.S. ratification process: the Convention Against Torture, the Genocide Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Here is a list of the other 16 such treaties (with the dates they generally entered into force and the dates they were ratified by the U.S. or entered into force for the U.S.):

  1. Slavery Convention (3/9/1927 & 3/21/1929);
  2. Protocol Amending the Slavery Convention (12/7/1953 & 3/7/1956);
  3. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (4/30/1957 & 12/6/1967);
  4. Abolition of Forced Labour [sic] Convention (1/17/1959 & 9/25/1992);
  5. Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour [sic] (11/17/2000 & 11/17/2000);
  6. United Nations Charter (10/24/1945 & 10/24/1945); [2]
  7. First  Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of Condition of Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  8. Second Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of Condition of Wounded and Sick and Shipwrecked in Armed Forces at Sea (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  9. Third Geneva Convention for Treatment of Prisoners of War (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  10. Fourth Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Time of War (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  11. Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (10/4/1967 & 11/1/1968);[3]
  12. Convention on the Political Rights of Women (7/7/1954 & 7/7/1976);[4]
  13. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1/4/1969 & 11/20/1994);
  14. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts) (2/12/2002 & 12/23/2002);
  15. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography) (1/18/2002 & 12/23/2002); and
  16. Charter of the Organization of American States (12/13/1951 & 12/13/1951).[5]

Merely reviewing the list of these treaties shows the variety of their subjects and the U.S. commitment to international human rights.[6]


[1] See David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Joan Fitzpatrick, Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 136-38 (4th ed. LexisNexis 2009) [Weissbrodt Book].

[2] The U.N. Charter’s Preamble states that the “Peoples of the United Nations [are determined] to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” Its Article 55 requires the U.N. to promote, among other things, “universal respect for . . . human rights . . . without discrimination. . . .” Its Article 68 called for the establishment of a Commission on Human Rights. It should also be noted that in 1944 the U.S. prepared the initial plan for what became the U.N., and it included an international bill of rights. (Weissbrodt Book at 11-13.)

[3] The U.S. ratification of the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees implicitly ratified the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that generally entered into force on April 22, 1954. The substance of the two treaties was discussed in an earlier post.

[4] This Convention’s Article I states,”Women shall be entitled to vote in all elections on equal terms with men,without any discrimination.”

[5] The Charter of the OAS proclaimed “the fundamental rights of the individual without distinction as to race, nationality, creed, or sex” (Art. 3(1) and the responsibility of each state in its development to “respect the rights of the individual and the principles of universal morality” (Art. 17). The Charter also established the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “to promote the observance and protection of human rights” and to prepare an “Inter-American convention on human rights” (Art. 106).

[6] It would be interesting to review the history of the U.S. ratification of these treaties, especially those with long periods before the U.S. became a party. I would be interested in comments by anyone who has done so or by anyone who finds errors in this summary.

Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

August 17, 2012, marked the sesquicentennial of the incident that started the U.S.-Dakota War in southwestern Minnesota in 1862. This dark side of U.S. and Minnesota history has been commemorated in various ways in Minnesota this year.

Governor Mark Dayton’s Proclamation

Governor Mark Dayton

Our current Governor, Mark Dayton, proclaimed August 17th a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in the State.

The Governor said that on August 17, 1862, the “first victims of the ‘U.S.-Dakota War of 1862’ lost their lives . . . . The ensuing attacks and counter-attacks killed hundreds more U.S. soldiers, Dakota braves, conniving traders, and innocent people. Tragically, those deaths started a vicious cycle of hate crimes, which continued long after the war was ended.”[1]

Moreover, he said, the “events leading to those atrocities actually began before 1862. The United States Government, through its agents in the new State of Minnesota,  . . . persuaded, deceived, or forced the state’s long-time inhabitants from Dakota and Ojibwe Indian tribes to give up their lands for promises of money, food, and supplies. Many of the government’s promises were repeatedly broken.”

As a result, the “displaced Dakota and Chippewa tribes watched newly arrived settlers claim the lands that had been theirs. They were denied their treaty payments of money and food, which resulted in starvation for many of their children and elderly. Often, when annuity payments did finally arrive, they were immediately plundered by some dishonest officials and traders.”

The war ended, Governor Dayton said, “but the attacks against innocent Indian children, women, and elderly continued. They were even encouraged by Alexander Ramsey, then the Governor of Minnesota, who on September 9, 1862, proclaimed: “Our course then is plain. The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State. . . . They must be regarded and treated as outlaws. If any shall escape extinction, the wretched remnant must be driven beyond our borders and our frontier garrisoned with a force sufficient to forever prevent their return.”

Governor Dayton said he was “appalled by Governor Ramsey’s words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people; and I repudiate them.” [2]

Therefore, Governor Dayton asked everyone on August 17, 2012, “to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future.” Everyone, he urged, should “practice not only remembrance, but also reconciliation.”

Governor Dayton also offered his “deepest condolences” to “everyone who lost family members during that time” and ordered that state flags to be flown at half-staff on that day.

Other Commemorations

This Fall the Saint Paul Interfaith Network presented Wokiksuye K’a Woyuonihan  (Remembering and Honoring), a series of conversations about the War to witness and hear the personal stories and experiences of Dakota descendants; to engage in structured and facilitated dialogue about what was heard and what is experienced today; and to deepen understanding between American Indians and non-American Indians; creating a climate of respect and possibilities for new stories, acts of justice and healing.

One of the leaders of this series of conversations was Jim Bear Jacobs, a member of the Turtle Clan of the Mohican people, one of 564 federally recognized tribes. A Christian with degrees in Pastoral Studies and Christian Theology, Jacobs believes that Christian faith and American Indian spirituality are complementary. The latter teaches us, he says, that it is inappropriate to hear a story and not give something back; the spirit gives us courage to hear voices long silenced; and it is our responsibility to recreate our spiritual vision in community.

On October 7th Jacobs and other Native Americans helped lead the World Communion Sunday worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which will be covered in subsequent posts.

This October the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul held a Symposium on “The Law and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.” Various speakers discussed (i) Military Tribunals, Executions & Pardons; (ii) Genocide, Human Rights, and the Need for Reconciliation; (iii) Reflections on my Ancestors: Artemas Ehnamani and the U.S.-Dakota War; (iv) Rethinking the Effect of the Abrogation of the Dakota Treaties and the Removal of the Dakota People from their Homeland; (v) A Program of Extermination: Governor Ramsey, the Minnesota Adjutant General, and Dakota Bounties; and (vi) Modern Communities: Court Systems of the Minnesota Dakota. The papers at this Symposium will be published in a future issue of the William Mitchell Law Review.

Minnesota History Center

A special exhibit about the War is being presented through September 8, 2013, at the Minnesota History Center, 345 West Kellogg Street St. Paul, Minnesota. The exhibit includes many, often conflicting, interpretations of events relating to the War. Visitors are encouraged to make up their own minds about what happened and why, to discuss what they are seeing and learning, and to leave comments. The History Center also has created a very useful website about the War.

James J. Hill House

There is an exhibit of works by 20 Native American artists created in response to the War–“Ded Unk’unpi—We Are Here.” The exhibit is open through January 13, 2013, at the James J. Hill House Gallery, 240 Summit Avenue in St. Paul.[3]

Fort Snelling

From November 7 through 13, a commemorative march from the Lower Sioux Agency Historical Site on Highway 2 near Morton, Minnesota to Fort Snelling (near the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport) will take place to honor the 1,700 Dakota women, children and elders who were forced to march 150 miles to a stockade at that Fort soon after the end of the U.S.-Dakota War. Along the way, they were assaulted by angry townspeople and soldiers, and an unknown number of Dakota were killed. Those who managed to complete the march were then held under brutal conditions at a concentration camp below Fort Snelling, where approximately 300 died during the winter of 1862-1863. In the spring of 1863, the survivors were exiled from the state. On the commemorative march this November the walkers at  approximately each mile will stop and place in the ground a prayer flag with the names of two of the families from the forced march. The names will be read aloud, and participants will offer prayers and tobacco.

Finally Dakota spiritual leader Jim Miller several years ago had a dream that ended up at a river bank where he saw his 38 ancestors hanged in Mankato on December 26, 1862. Afterwards Miller organized a ride on horseback tracing the journey of his dream, all in the interest of bringing healing among Native Americans and within the broader community. This ride is the subject of a documentary film, Dakota 38, that can be seen on YouTube.


[1] Prior posts gave a short summary of the U.S.-Dakota War and the contemporaneous account of the War by a white settler in nearby Iowa.

[2] Today Governor Ramsey’s statement would be a crime under international law. Under Article III (c) of the Genocide Convention of 1948, it is a crime to make “[d]irect and public incitement to commit genocide,” which is defined, in part, in Article II (a) of that treaty as “killing members of [an ethnical or racial] group” with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, [the group].”

[3] James J. Hill, 1838-1916, who was known as “The Empire Builder,” was the chief executive officer of a group of railroad lines headed by the Great Northern Railway that served the Upper Midwest, the northern Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. His mansion in St. Paul today is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society.