I think we should clean up our own house on that score first. I think we should be a role model in the world for human rights. We need to build up our credibility, first by closing Guantanamo, fully funding our commitment to the United Nations, and signing on to treaties such as the International Criminal Court. Only when we adhere to the world standards of human rights we ask for from others will we be looked at with any respect on the issue.
In my mind, I would say that the United States has to respond with a level of firm commitment in defending human rights. The exact manner of this can vary, and I think this is where political maneuvering might be needed. To simply remain silent or to act in a manner of hypocrisy is unacceptable in my mind. I think that our history has revealed terrible realities when human rights violations have been committed and we have remained silent. On some level, action is needed. The defense of human rights has to be something that represents an absolute, given our commitment to freedom and individual liberty.
It's interesting that the question is posed as "violations by other major powers." Certainly we don't wish to peer to deeply in the mirror and see ourselves. It's clear that violations by 'minor' powers have been dealt with by outright warfare; however, the best and only effective response, be it major or minor power, is to lead by example. That has, until the obvious abuses during the last several years, had been our moral imperative. The United States was founded upon the principles of the sanctity of Individual Rights, and through most of our history, we've done well to maintain it. As long as we serve as the counter-example to the tyranny found throughout history, we have effectively, albeit not immediately, dealt with this issue. If the world would condemn a country for its infringements on the Rights of its Individuals, and condemn from the vantage of its own virtue, eventually that condemned country must change its ways, or be left behind as a backward nation. Its citizens, in viewing the world, would see it is better elsewhere, and either cause that country's change from within, or leave that country.
This is not an easy question to answer. I think that the United States could make their opinion known and it should, but as a country they are not in a position to do anything really on an official level directly. Each country has rights of its own. However, there are a few indirect things that they can do. They can try to win in the international court of opinion. If enough countries are brought to awareness, then something may take place. Also the U.S. can empower people to something about it such as bring awareness and even something more.
This is a very tough question. I can definitely see both sides of the question, but I think that when major powers violate human rights, all we can really do is talk to them about it and try to gradually persuade them to stop.
The best example is China. They violate all sorts of human and political rights that their citizens ought to have. But what can we do? We clearly can't go to war with them, even if that would be appropriate. If we stopped trading with them completely, we would be badly hurt economically. If we put trade sanctions on them, they could stop lending us money.
There is really no way to force another major power to do what we want. The things we can do would probably hurt us and not really help the people who are being oppressed. So I think all we can do is try to persuade.
Having grown-up encircled by a group of Jewish people, including my own parents and grandparents, who survived the Holocaust I have to say that there are certainly times when the United States has to take a stand against human right violations. Do I want my sons in a war? Of course I don't, but victims are victims and can not protect themselves. There are degrees of human rights violations and there are cultural mores that also determine what a human rights issue is considered. I our country we find it terrible to allow children to work in grueling situations, but in other countries a child may be the bread winner.
Growing up I recall the conservations of the adults around me. They cried about their children who were murdered, their husbands or wives slaughter, conditions in the camps, fears that still haunted them and their distrust of human nature. The one thing that always stuck in my mind was that America had turned away the ship " Frans Joseph" that arrived in America with a load of Jews only to be turned around and sent back to Germany. No one would allow them to dock and stay in the country so they could be safe. One woman, Myra, my grandmother's friend, had been on that ship. Her husband and children all died in a concentration camp. She had witnessed her four year olds death at the hands of Nazis.
My whole life I have been raised to take a stand. If each individual doesn't, then who will? What if we are the next victims? Who will save us?