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Human Rights and the UN System

An overwhelming majority believes protecting human rights should be a high priority for the UN system. A modest majority has supported the US ratifying UN human rights treaties, with a small minority opposed.

Asked how high a priority "protection of human rights" should be for "the UN system," an overwhelming majority of 78% said that it should be a "high priority." Just 17% said it should be "somewhat of a priority" and only 4% said it should not be a priority (Wirthlin, April 1996). [1]

A strong majority supports spending the amount of money the UN currently spends on human rights. Wirthlin asked whether "the United States and other UN member countries should provide the United Nations with more money than it has now to... monitor violations of human rights throughout the world...or less money, or are they providing the UN with the right amount of money now for the purpose?" Only 20% favored spending less money, while 30% favored spending more money and 36% favored the present level (December 1995). [2] This sanguine feeling about the current level of spending is particularly interesting in light of the fact that Americans tend to assume that the UN budget is far greater than it really is (see Strengthening the UN).

A March 1992 Roper poll asked about whether the US should ratify UN human rights treaties. Respondents heard a rather extensive description of the issue:

Over many years the U.N. (United Nations) has produced treaties to protect human rights, which most countries have ratified. Some people say the United States should ratify these treaties because it would show we support worldwide standards of human rights and because it would increase the pressure on other governments to abide by them. Other people say the U.S. should not ratify these treaties because they might require changes in U.S. law and practices and because other countries would then have the right to question human rights conditions in the United States. Do you think the U.S. should or should not ratify the U.N. human rights treaties?

A modest majority of 51% said that the US should ratify the treaties, while just 21% said it should not. Many were still uncertain, with 29% saying they did not know. [3]



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