from International Institutions and Global Governance Program

U.S. Opinion on Human Rights

September 4, 2009

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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This page is part of Public Opinion on Global Issues. Download this chapter (PDF) or read more about world opinion on human rights.

This publication is now archived.

The Role of the United Nations in Human Rights

Americans express support for the United Nations playing an active role in promoting human rights and reject the argument that this would be improper interference in the internal affairs of a country. A large majority favors the UN playing a larger role than it presently does to promote human rights and favor giving it greater power to go into countries to investigate human rights abuses. A substantial majority of Americans believe that the UN should try to further women’s rights even when presented with the argument that this would conflict with the principle of national sovereignty. When asked which entity should make decision on matters related to human rights, more Americans prefer the giving this role to the UN or regional organizations than to national governments. Download full chapter (PDF).

Freedom of Expression

Americans nearly unanimously support the principle that individuals have a right to freedom of expression, including the right to criticize government and religious leaders. An overwhelming majority of Americans also believe that the government should not have the right to prohibit discussion of certain political or religious views and that people should have the right to demonstrate peacefully against their government. Download full chapter (PDF).

Media Freedom

There is robust support in the United States for the principle that the media should be free of government control and that citizens should even have access to material from hostile countries. A majority of U.S. respondents also say that the government should not have the right to limit access to the internet and believe that the government should not have the right to prohibit publishing material it thinks will be politically destabilizing. Download full chapter (PDF).

Religious Freedom

Americans believe it is important for people of different religions to be treated equally and majorities affirm that followers of any religion should be allowed to assemble and practice in the United States. Additionally, a substantial majority of U.S. respondents believe that people of any religion should be allowed to try to actively to convert others to their religion, which differs from the global average. Download full chapter (PDF).

Women’s Rights

A large majority in the United States supports the principle that women should have “full equality of rights,” and believe their government has the responsibility to seek to prevent discrimination against women. Download full chapter (PDF).

Racial and Ethnic Equality

Large majorities in the United States say people of different races and ethnicities should be treated equally, and an overwhelming majority says that employers should not be allowed to discriminate based on race or ethnicity and that it is the government’s responsibility to stop this from happening. In general, large majorities in the United States agree that governments should take action to prevent racial discrimination. Download full chapter (PDF).

Norms on Torture and Detention

A large majority of Americans support having international rules against torture, threatening torture, or treating detainees in a humiliating or degrading manner. However, a significant minority favors making an exception in the case of terrorists who have information that could save innocent lives. A large majority rejects the idea of making an exception to rules on detention for terrorism-related suspects. Commanders are generally seen as responsible if their subordinates carry out torture. Download full chapter (PDF).

Social and Economic Rights

Large majorities in the United States say their government should be responsible for taking care of the poor and for ensuring that citizens can meet their basic needs for food, healthcare, and education. Download full chapter (PDF).

More on:

United States

Human Rights

Polls and Public Opinion