Sunday, June 28, 2020
By JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Director of the Human Rights Project, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
As many readers of this blog know, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States, originally scheduled for May 11, has been postponed until November of 2020. The UPR is a peer human rights review mechanism established in 2006 by the U.N. Human Rights Council. Since its inception, the UPR has served to document the human rights records of all U.N. member states – and provided a vital platform for securing recommendations to governments that foster compliance with the full panoply of human rights.
The U.S. UPR will be based on three main inputs: stakeholder reports (from civil society), a U.S. government report, and a compilation of all the recommendations already made by U.N. human rights bodies. In October of 2019, advocates gearing up for the review submitted 139 stakeholder reports, sharing an array of perspectives on the United States’ human rights record. Since civil society reports were initially submitted, COVID-19 has ravaged communities around the world, and upended life for everyone. U.N. experts and regional human rights have commented extensively on the human rights implications of coronavirus, and global ngos, as well as national and local U.S. groups are documenting the impacts.
The UPR process was established to improve human rights compliance and “designed to prompt, support, and expand the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground.” For this goal to be achieved in the context of the current global pandemic, the review must address the impacts of the COVID crisis, and assess recovery and relief measures that governments around the world are employing. To ensure that the November UPR cycle includes coronavirus, human rights advocates from around the world are seeking the chance to make supplemental submissions that provide up to date information to shape the November review. On May 21st, 87 signatories joined a letter making this request to the Office of the High Commissioner and the Human Rights Council. This advocacy has been coupled with calls for the U.S. federal government to include information on how federal, state, and local governments are responding to COVID-19 in it's own report. (Notably, the United States’ UPR report was due in February of 2020, but has yet to be made publicly available).
Government accountability is a defining aim of human rights advocacy and organizing. In the current divisive moment, the need for collective action is essential. In the past months, the Human Rights Institute has been privileged to work closely with grassroots members of the U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN) already engaged in UPR advocacy, the ACLU, and many other advocates to ensure that U.N. human rights mechanisms, and our own government, address the immediate human rights violations emanating from coronavirus, as well as their root causes. More on the collective advocacy by U.S. human rights organizations is detailed in this recent piece on Just Security: Human Rights Cannot be Put on Hold.