Thursday, May 12, 2016
TREATY BODIES LOOK AT U.S. PROGRESS ON TORTURE AND RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
by Margaret Drew
This post follows up both Risa Kaufman's earlier post on UN Special Procedures and the U.S. visit and Martha Davis' post on two writings that take a critical look at the use of Special Procedures. Earlier this week, I checked in with Rebecca Landy of the US Human Rights Network (USHRN). Rebecca is the organization's Human Rights Outreach and Advocacy Manager. The following reports our conversation:
Rebecca, would you tell us a bit about the UN process of reviewing US compliance and progress with the various UN conventions?
While most folks in the United States are focused on our presidential election process – there is another important process for our democracy that will happen on a similar cycle – the reviews of the US’ human rights records on the three core UN human rights treaties our government has ratified.
The most recent rounds of those periodic reviews under the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) took place in 2014-2015 with each treaty body Committee releasing a set of Concluding Observations (or Recommendations) for the U.S. government.
But in addition to those periodic reviews, there are also one year follow-up reviews to the Concluding Observations that take place for each of these treaty bodies. Two of those for the U.S. happen to be occurring this week at the UN in Geneva. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website explains that the purpose of these follow-up reviews is “To monitor more closely the implementation of some of their recommendations that they consider urgent, priority or protective, and implementable within one or two years.”
When will the reviews happen and what is their likely scope?
The consideration of the U.S. CAT follow-up report took place on Monday and the CERD follow-up is happening this Friday. Unfortunately neither of these reviews was live webcast or in public sessions, so we will have to wait for the official reports to be released to learn more. That said, we do have a general sense of what those reports will cover based on the designated issues for follow-up. For CAT there are five follow-up issues and for CERD there are three issues for follow-up.
What are the specific issues?
For CAT, the issues are 1. Inquiries into allegations of torture overseas; 2. Guantanamo Bay detention facilities; 3. Interrogation techniques; 4. Excessive use of force and police brutality; and 5. Passage of the ordinance entitled Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors.
For CERD, the issues are 1. (a) to investigate and prosecute excessive use of force and (b) prevent the excessive use of force; 2. Immigrants; 3. Guantanamo Bay- specifically for the US to provide updated information for closing within one year.
Is there any significance in the identification of these particular issues?
Of note is that there is overlap in the issues these two treaty bodies considered “urgent, priority or protective, and implementable.” That designation means that we can exert extra pressure on the U.S. government to hold them accountable to these recommendations. Both include follow-up recommendations on excessive use of force and Guantanamo Bay (an issue also in the ICCPR follow-up last summer). While we wait to learn whether the UN experts determine if the U.S. has made progress on these issues - you can read the CAT civil society follow-up shadow reports and government report here and the CERD civil society follow-up shadow reports and government report here.
Do you have any expectations for the substance of the reports?
According to the Guardian, the total number of people killed by U.S. police officers in 2015 shows that the rate of death for young black men was five times higher than white men of the same age and the situation for immigrant communities being targeted by police is no better. Also,President Obama has yet to keep his promise of closing Guantánamo, including ending indefinite detention without trial. Given that, the follow-up reports by both Committees will not be encouraging. If so, we can take these reports to help push the government to action and advance a people-centered human rights movement at home. And we can be sure that any progress that is recognized in these reports happened because civil society, including grassroots communities, kept organizing!
What significance does the election have on this process and the substantive issues reviewed?
With the Obama Administration soon coming to an end, U.S. advocates hope the human rights legacy for this administration includes progress on these issue areas as well as the establishment of a long-term infrastructure and institutionalization to improve and ensure domestic implementation of international human rights treaties and recommendations.
Editors' notes: You may join USHRN’s CAT and CERD Listervs to keep posted and receive the reports once they become available. Also, USHRN organized many of the shadow reports submitted as part of the reviews. Though not covering the substance of the reports, the press release from the UN CAT session noted the impressive number of U.S. civil society shadow reports “the Committee had received 22 alternative reports for follow-up, 12 of which related to the follow-up of the United States” – showing a level of engagement by U.S. civil society that was coordinated and powerful.