Monday, June 20, 2016

U.S. Gun Violence: a Human Rights Response




Risa Kaufman, Executive Director, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute

Well before the June 12th attack in Orlando, human rights advocates labeled gun violence in the United States a human rights crisis, underscoring the urgent need for government action.

The Orlando mass shooting, which targeted the LGBTQ community, was the worst in U.S. history. Mass shootings have become devastatingly common, while communities throughout the United States suffer from gun violence on a daily basis. Every day, an average of 89 people in the United States die from gun related violence. That’s 32,000 people a year.

The impact on communities of color and on women is particularly acute. African-Americans are more than twice as likely to die from gun violence than whites.  And, in instances of domestic violence, the presence of a firearm in a home increases the risk of homicide by 500%.  Amnesty International USA’s recent human rights report on gun violence in Chicago and Illinois, and the Violence Policy Center’s report on intimate partner homicide starkly illustrate the crisis. Image1

As Congress debates whether and how to curb easy access to deadly assault rifles and other firearms, human rights officials express dismay at the most recent tragedy, and stress the critical need for U.S. lawmakers to respond.  

Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement urging the United States to “live up to its obligations to protect its citizens” from gun violence. The statement follows the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ recent report to the UN Human Rights Council on human rights and the regulation of firearms. The report delineates ways in which gun violence threatens a sweeping range of rights, and emphasizes governments’ due diligence obligations to protect.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights likewise issued a statement condemning the Orlando shootings and urging reforms. In a previous thematic report, the IACHR examined government’s obligations to protect, including through the regulation of firearms.

Human rights experts have repeatedly sounded the alarm.

In visits to the United States earlier this year, two groups of UN experts stated concern over U.S. gun violence, and the government’s failure to curb it. The Working Group of experts on People of African Descent noted concern with the lack of gun control and “stand your ground” laws and the impact on African American communities in the United States. The Working Group on discrimination against women noted the “persistent fatal consequences for women” of the lack of gun control in the United States, in particular in cases of domestic violence.

The UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination both dedicated portions of their most recent reports on U.S. human rights compliance to the issue of gun violence. They noted concern with the high number of gun-related deaths and injuries in the United States, and the disparate impact on racial and ethnic minorities. Both committees view the government’s failure to curb gun violence as a violation of the right to life and the right to non-discrimination. And they urged the U.S. to take action to reduce gun violence, including through the expansion of background checks and other enhanced gun violence prevention measures. 

Has outrage over gun violence in the U.S. finally reached a tipping point? Framing the epidemic as a human rights crisis demands U.S. lawmakers to respond, adding urgency to a drumbeat of calls for meaningful reform.

Guns, Risa Kaufman | Permalink