Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Guest blogger Erin Smith of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute posts today on a new resource on how U.N. reviews of U.S. human rights are relevant to state and local governments. Erin writes:
In the last three years, the United States has undergone reviews of compliance with the core international human rights treaties it has ratified—the Race Convention, the Torture Convention, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the protocols to the Children’s Rights Convention addressing child soldiers and child trafficking and child pornography—as well as the more recently established Universal Periodic Review (the UPR) at the Human Rights Council. These reviews culminated in an array of recommendations for improving human rights protections in the United States, addressing many issues squarely within the jurisdiction of state and local governments, including housing, employment, criminal justice, and the rights of children.
While many state and local governments actively work in these areas, including through the efforts of mayors, city councils, and human rights agencies, the human rights frame helps governments to more effectively and proactively identify and address discrimination and inequity, including policies or programs that may not be intentionally discriminatory but that nonetheless have a disparate impact.
To foster greater awareness of the human rights recommendations, and their relationship to the work of human rights agencies, Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute published a new resource this week. This resource summarizes the recent human rights recommendations that are most pertinent to the work of state and local human rights agencies. It provides examples of some of the ways state and local agencies can use these recommendations in their work and can be read in conjunction with a 2011 toolkit on the UPR.
Federal compliance with human rights norms—as well as federal support for state and local governments to engage in human rights work—is key, as the recent U.N. reviews emphasize. And the federal government has been taking some action in line with recommendations from treaty bodies and the UPR, including in the areas of criminalization of homelessness, employment, and criminal justice.
The federal government is also working to include both civil society and state and local governments in its implementation efforts. Indeed, earlier this year, the State Department announced its initial steps toward more coordinated implementation of U.N. recommendations, announcing a new structure of working groups to address the recent recommendations:
- Civil Rights and Discrimination
- Criminal Justice
- Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, Indigenous Peoples, and the Environment
- National Security
- Immigration, Migrants, Trafficking, Labor, and Children
- Treaties, International Mechanisms, and Domestic Implementation
Led by federal agencies and departments, the working groups are slated to meet with civil society at least once a year, and their role is reportedly to review the UPR and treaty body recommendations and to identify actions the U.S. is taking to respond, as well as further opportunities to do more. The first meeting, scheduled for April 27th, will focus on Treaties, International Mechanisms, and Domestic Implementation. The State Department, charged with leading the group, has invited civil society as well as state and local government representatives to participate in the meeting.
State and local governments could offer a vital contribution to these working group dialogues. As the U.S. has repeatedly acknowledged, state and local governments stand at the “frontlines” in the fight to ensure human rights are respected and protected.
Significant progress in strengthening the U.S. human rights record will require federal, state, and local governments to establish greater coordination and cooperation around human rights, through the UPR working groups and beyond. This new resource offers a starting point for these efforts.