- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 17, 2001

On June 8, you published an article on the outcome of the five-year review of the U.N. Conference on Human Settlements ("Habitat + 5") that included the United Nations explicit criticisms of the "Bush administrations" opposition to a new international "right to housing" ("U.N., U.S. at odds over housing as a 'right," Nation). Far from being criticized for opposing creation of this expansive new "human right," the Bush administration (and its excellent negotiating team) should be praised for its laudable efforts to bring rationality and common sense to the quagmire of international "human rights" rhetoric.

For one thing, the stance taken by the United States at the Habitat + 5 negotiations is hardly new. Although accurate reporting would have disclosed this fact, opposition to housing as a "human right" also was the position of the Clinton administration and for good reason.

"Human rights," as set out in the U.S. Constitution (and as clarified by countless decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court) basically are rights to be free from governmental intrusion. Thus, the First Amendment protects citizens´ right to speak and think as they wish, the Fifth Amendment guarantees that the government treats criminal defendants with utmost fairness, and the 14th Amendment prohibits governmental decisions from being made on the basis of race. This list could go on, but the point is clear.

On the international scene, however, the enticing rhetoric of "human rights" is being used to mask and muddy an entirely different (albeit unquestionably important) debate: What economic and social entitlements must government provide for its citizens? The question, in this context, is not a citizen´s right to be free from government tyranny, but the citizen´s right to demand that the government provide him or her with a host of goods and benefits.

Were the United States to recognize a "right to housing," U.S. courts would be inundated, as Earth Times reported at the end of the Habitat + 5 conference, with a "torrent of lawsuits demanding billions of dollars in aid from the government for the homeless and for residents in dilapidated living quarters." The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized on numerous occasions that such questions of social and economic entitlement are properly left for democratic debate and resolution within the halls of Congress.

Were it otherwise, the very concept of democracy would be seriously eroded. The world has seen nations that have promised to provide every "human right" imaginable, from housing to food to health care to recreation. The now-collapsed Soviet Union comes readily to mind. The U.S. Constitution wisely makes no such empty promises of social "rights." But which system of "rights" has in fact best provided for the housing, health and even recreational activities of its citizens? The question answers itself.

Then-ambassador to Kenya and current U.S. State Department official E. Michael Southwick cogently explained during the Habitat + 5 negotiations, "n economy, good government, the rule of law, democracy those are the kinds of things that create housing." Housing, according to Mr. Southwick and as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a "component of an adequate standard of living." Government, furthermore, has vital roles to play in assuring a sound economy, good government and democratic debate. This is the process that has provided an exceptionally high standard of living within the United States. But government (either in the United States or around the world), as Mr. Southwick wisely understands, does not improve in any demonstrable way the status of its citizens by making empty promises of social "rights."

Mr. Southwick and his able staff at the United Nations in New York unquestionably are right. Those who would suggest the contrary should know better.


RICHARD G. WILKINS

Professor of law

Brigham Young University

Provo, Utah

No justification for Hamas atrocities

Your June 6 article "Hamas provides social services for poor" quotes a Hamas spokesmans defense of murdering teen-agers, referring to "the long-lasting terror from the occupation which lasted more than 35 years up to this point now the Palestinians are trying to balance this terror by reacting against Israelis."

Defenders of the Palestinians always refer to 35 years of occupation to justify the Palestinians´ hostility. Their misrepresentation lies in ignoring that this conflict started 80 years ago, beginning with Arab attacks against Jews in the 1920s, and has been continued by Arab instigation to the present time without interruption. Nothing fundamental in the Arab-Israeli conflict happened 35 years ago.


RICHARD COHEN

Monsey, N.Y.


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I found your June 6 article "Hamas provides social service for poor" morally offensive. What inspired you to run this vehicle of extremist Islamic Arab propaganda, which almost made Hamas´ cold-blooded tactics seem justifiable? It had not even been a week since Hamas had claimed responsibility gleefully, I might add for the horrific dismemberment of 20 innocent civilians, mostly teen-age girls. Is your justification that you are being "evenhanded"? Evil should never be mitigated or rationalized.


DAWN T. JONES

Falls Church

Forgotten Flag Day

As I read through the June 14 edition of The Washington Times, I was saddened that I could not find one article acknowledging that the 14th was Flag Day. Perhaps we need a major retail sales event such as those associated with Memorial Day to rekindle interest in this special holiday. While I wouldnt expect the media at large to pay homage to the U.S. flag, that most dignified symbol of our great country, I expected more from The Washington Times.


B.J. McKAY

Gambrills, Md.

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