Sunday, October 17, 2021
The United States was elected to the UN Human Rights Council on October 14, 2021, more than three years after the Trump administration withdrew from the Council. On the campaign trail President Biden had promised that the United States would week election on the Council and the administration began to reengage with the Council earlier this year as an observer.
Also noteworthy is that on September 24, 2021, the United States submitted its Sixth Periodic Report to the UN Committee Against Torture concerning the implementation of the United States’ obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in accordance with Article 19 of the Convention. The report covers both domestic and extra-territorial violations of the prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment. As reported by Jamil Dakwar, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, the report was due in 2018 but the Trump administration failed to submit a reply to the Committee’s detailed questions. The organization of this report follows the general guidelines for the preparation of reports by Member States. The U.S. report will likely be reviewed by the U.N. Committee Against Torture in late 2022 or early 2023 depending on the backlog caused by COVID-19. U.S. civil society organizations (including human rights clinics) may wish to submit shadow reports to the Committee in the coming year.
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Event: 10/4-10/5 UN Office at Geneva and Nizami Ganjavi International Center Webcast on "Peace, Diversity and our Common Humanity"
On October 4-5, 2021, the United Nations Office at Geneva and the Nizami Ganjavi International Center will be holding a webcast on “Peace, Diversity and our Common Humanity”. From the event organizers:
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has just published his report “Our Common Agenda”, calling on the international community to join forces to tackle the rising nationalism, deep-rooted rifts, glaring inequalities and the climate emergency which mark our current world situation, and to strengthen and accelerate multilateral cooperation in the coming years.
The aim of this high-level event is to heed this call and to endorse both multilateralism and the values of peace, human rights, dignity, equality, justice, and solidarity that have underpinned the work of the United Nations for over 75 years. Over the course of the two-day event, different aspects of the current world situation will be discussed in the following four panels: “Peace and Security in a Changing World”, “Diversity in the Context of Our Common Humanity”, “Environment and Climate as All-Encompassing Issues” and “Equality within the Sustainable Development Goals”.
Monday, August 16, 2021
UN Special Rapporteurs Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Clement Nyaletsossi Voulé, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, as well as others, have expressed alarm at what they describe as a “rampant police brutality against peaceful protesters worldwide” and warned States of the grave danger arising from such abuse for human rights and the rule of law.
“In recent months and years, we have repeatedly voiced our concern over a steady increase in the use of excessive force, police brutality, and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as arbitrary detention, against predominantly peaceful protesters in all regions of the world,” the experts said in a statement on August 13, 2021.
“This trend, often extending to journalists covering protests, has resulted in countless deaths and injuries, often exacerbated through torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearance, and has intimidated, traumatized, and antagonised large segments of society worldwide.”
The experts said the vast majority of these incidents were rooted in political, socio-economic, ethnic, racial, religious, or other tensions specific to particular national or regional situations. “At the same time, there are also relevant, more generic contexts of global reach and underlying reasons of racism, gender-based and other forms of discrimination in law enforcement,” they said.
“Large-scale migration, protests of climate activists, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples and, more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement are affected by excessive use of force and police brutality.
“Additionally, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been numerous reports of security forces employing excessive and often indiscriminate violence resulting in unlawful deaths, injury and psychological trauma, as well as arbitrary detentions, in order to enforce emergency measures for the protection of public health, such asbans on assemblies, lockdowns and curfews.
“Most worryingly, throughout all regions and contexts, these acts of violence and abuse have often been encouraged by divisive, discriminatory and inflammatory narratives spread or condoned by political leaders, local authorities, and parts of the media, and by the resulting atmosphere of near complete impunity for perpetrators.”
The experts said it is the prime responsibility of governments and political leaders to prevent such dangerous developments through non-violent means including, most notably, pro-active communication aiming at de-escalation, reconciliation, and the peaceful exercise of civil and political rights.
“Public confidence in the reliability, legitimacy and integrity of State institutions and their law enforcement officials is the most valuable commodity of any peaceful, just and sustainable society and the very foundation of democracy and the rule of law,” the experts said.
“We therefore urge governments and political leaders not to needlessly squander the trust of their people, to refrain from any unwarranted violence, coercion and divisiveness, and to prioritize and promote dialogue, tolerance and diversity in the common public interest of all.”
Thursday, July 8, 2021
The following UN Human Rights Mechanisms have issued calls for inputs with deadlines in July and August 2021 and law professors whose practice, research, and/or scholarship touches on these topics may be interested in submission:
Special Rapporteur on racial discrimination - Call for input on combating glorification of Nazim, neo-Nazim, and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. Deadline July 12, 2021. Read more.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – Call for input on analytical report on a comprehensive approach to promoting, protecting, and respecting women's and girls' full enjoyment of human rights in humanitarian situations, including good practices, challenges, and lessons learned at the national, regional, and international levels. Deadline July 12, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association - Call for input on thematic report addressing the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations. Deadline July 31, 2021. Read more.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - Call for comments and textual suggestions for the draft convention on the right to development. Deadline: August 20, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on torture – Call for input for comments on a report on the impact of thematic reports presented by the Special Rapporteur on Torture. Deadline August 31, 2021. Read more.
This information was compiled by Khala Turner, rising 3L at St. Louis University School of Law, from https://ohchr.org/EN/Pages/calls-for-input.aspx.
Thursday, June 10, 2021
Event: June 24th Discussion on the rights of indigenous women and girls with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will hold a virtual day of general discussion on the rights of indigenous women and girls. The Committee states that "the purpose of the day of general discussion is to stimulate debate and seek inputs for the elaboration by the Committee of a General Recommendation on the rights of indigenous women and girls. The aim of the General Recommendation will be to provide guidance to States parties to the Convention on the measures they should adopt to ensure full compliance with their obligations under the Convention to respect and protect the rights of indigenous women and girls."
The discussion will take place online on Thursday June 24, 2021, from 12:30pm-2:30pm and from 4:00pm-6:00pm (Geneva time)/ 6:30am-8:30am and 10:00am-12noon (Eastern time). (Link to be posted here at a later date).
The Committee welcomes written submissions which should be sent electronically in Word format to Marco Zanin, Human Rights Officer, at email@example.com, indicating "Submission - General discussion on GRIWAG" in the subject. Submissions must not exceed a maximum of 3,300 words and must be received by June 18, 2021 at the latest.
If you wish to deliver a brief oral statement during the discussion, it must not exceed 3 minutes and you must indicate your intention to do so and must send your statement electronically in Word format to Marco Zanin at firstname.lastname@example.org by June 18, 2021 at the latest, indicating "Registration - General discussion on GRIWAG"in the subject.
More information on this event is available here.
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
The following UN Human Rights Mechanisms have issued calls for inputs with deadlines in June and July 2021 and law professors whose practice, research, and/or scholarship touches on these topics may be interested in submission:
Special Rapporteur on the right to everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health – Call for inputs on the right to sexual and reproductive health–challenges and possibilities during COVID-19. Deadline Jun 10, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants - Call for inputs on the impact of COVID-19 on the human rights of migrants. Deadline June 14, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression - Call for submissions on gender justice and the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Deadline June 14, 2021. Read more.
Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order – Call for inputs on the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a serious test to multilateralism, laying bare its weaknesses and how it could be the opportunity for a strengthened, more effected and inclusive multilateralism. Deadline June 18, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism – Call for inputs on the human rights dimensions of technical assistance and capacity building in the counter-terrorism and countering/preventing violent extremism areas. Deadline June 30, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association – Call for inputs on the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests during crisis situations. Deadline July 31, 2021. Read more.
This information was compiled by Khala Turner, rising 3L at St. Louis University School of Law, from https://ohchr.org/EN/Pages/calls-for-input.aspx.
Thursday, April 8, 2021
The following UN Human Rights Mechanisms have issued calls for inputs with deadlines in April and May 2021 and law professors whose research and scholarship touches on these topics may be interested in submission:
Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery – Call for inputs on the role of organized criminal groups with regard to contemporary forms of slavery. Deadline April 16, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights – Call for inputs from States and Stakeholders to inform a thematic report on the lifecycle of plastics and human rights. Deadline April 21, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on violence against women – Call for inputs to inform the Special Rapporteur’s report on femicide. Deadline April 30, 2021. Read more.
Independent Expert on human rights and the environment – Call for inputs on healthy and sustainable food: reducing the environmental impacts of the global food system on human rights. Deadline May 1, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on the sale of children – Call for inputs on the gender dimensions of the sale and sexual exploitation of children and the importance of integrating a human rights-based and a non-binary approach to combating and eradicating sale and sexual exploitation of children. Deadline May 10, 2021. Read more.
This information was compiled from https://ohchr.org/EN/Pages/calls-for-input.aspx.
Monday, March 22, 2021
JoAnn Kamuf Ward and Jamil Dakwar, Is there a New Era For Human Rights on the Horizon? What We Can Learn from the Biden-Harris Administration’s First UN Appearance, Just Security (March 19, 2021), https://www.justsecurity.org/75429/is-there-a-new-era-for-human-rights-on-the-horizon/
"It’s been a busy week for the Biden-Harris administration on the global stage. On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris made the first official administration statement to the United Nations, speaking at the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women to underscore U.S. commitments to democracy and gender equality. Wednesday morning, the new administration made its first formal appearance at the U.N. Human Rights Council, as part of a review of the U.S. human rights record, known as the Universal Periodic Review, or UPR. This appearance was followed by an unprecedented racial justice event, co-sponsored by the U.S. Mission in Geneva and featuring prominent racial justice advocates, including Black Lives Matter founder Opal Tometi and Gay MacDougall, the current U.S. nominee to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
...This week’s UPR appearance is significant because the Biden-Harris administration is representing the United States to articulate which of the recommendations the government is committed to implementing, which recommendations it will reject, and why."
Monday, March 8, 2021
The following UN Human Rights Mechanisms have issued calls for inputs with deadlines in March 2021 and law professors whose scholarship touches on these topics may be interested in submission:
Working Group on the use of mercenaries - Call for inputs for report on the role of private military and security companies (PMSCs) in humanitarian action (to be presented to the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, Sep 2021). Deadline March 9, 2021. Read more.
Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity - Call for inputs for report on gender, sexual orientation and gender identity (to be presented to the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, June 2021). Deadline March 14, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery - Call for inputs for report on the nexus between forced displacement and contemporary forms of slavery (to be presented to the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, Sep 2021). Deadline March 15, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights - Call for input for report the right to benefit from scientific progress and its applications (to be presented to the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, Sep 2021). Deadline March 15, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples - Call for inputs for report on the situation of indigenous peoples living in urban areas (to be presented to the 76th session of the General Assembly, Oct 2021). Deadline March 17, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples - Call for inputs for report on Covid-19 recovery and indigenous peoples’ rights (to be presented to the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, Sep 2021). Deadline March 17, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – Call for inputs for report on the long-term detention of human rights defenders (to be presented to the 76th session of the General Assembly, Oct 2021). Deadline March 19, 2021. Read more.
Working Group of experts on people of African descent - Call for inputs for public session and report on Environmental Justice, the Climate Crisis and people of African descent (to be presented to the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, Sep 2021). Deadline March 22, 2021. Read more.
Independent Expert on older persons - Call for inputs for report on the causes, manifestations and prevalence of ageism and age discrimination (to be presented to the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, Sep 2021). Deadline March 22, 2021. Read more.
Independent Expert on older persons - Call for inputs for report on the intersection between ageing and gender and the specific human rights concerns and challenges faced by older women (to be presented to the 76th session of the General Assembly, Sep 2021). Deadline March 22, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on the right to development - Call for inputs for report on the Climate change related policies and projects from a right to development perspective (to be presented to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly in 2021). Deadline March 28, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights - Call for inputs for impact analysis of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) (a series of meetings with the IMO in Dec 2020). Deadline March 31, 2021. Read more.
Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights - Call for inputs for report on the lifecycle of plastics and human rights (to be presented to the 76th session of the General Assembly, Sep 2021). Deadline March 31, 2021. Read more.
This list was compiled by the International Lesbian Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA). To access wonderful monthly updates on UN Human Rights Mechanisms calls for inputs and country visits schedule, visit: https://ilga.org/newsletters.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
On Friday February 26, 2021, 23 UN human rights experts issued a very strong statement on policing and systemic racism in the United States. The statement calls out police use of excessive force against protesters, highlighting the Philadelphia Police Department’s violent crackdown on Black Lives Matter protesters last June. The statement is also the first time international human rights experts have echoed the Black Lives Matter Movement and allied groups in calling to shift resources from police departments to social and economic resources to support communities of color.
This is also very significant because the last time the UN addressed the issue there was outrage after the UN Human Rights Council watered down a resolution on police brutality and racism after George Floyd's murder, removing the language condemning the US and calling for an investigation.
This statement would not have been possible but for the incredible advocacy of Professors Rachel Lopez and Lauren Katz Smith and their students at Drexel's Kline School of Law, as well as the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Editors' Note: We continue our symposium in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd's death with this post on the United Nation's response.
By Guest Contributor Prof. Gay McDougall
Senior Fellow and Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence
Leitner Center for International Law and Justice/Center for Race, Law and Justice
Fordham University School of Law
Former Vice Chair, UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Former UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities
This week governments and civil society around the world joined forces to pressure the UN to adopt a resolution responding to the murder of George Floyd and other unarmed African Americans. The resolution passed on June 19th, 2020, celebrated by Black Americans as the day of emancipation from enslavement, was historic in many ways and in some ways disappointing.
The original draft that was introduced by the African Group at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, was a response to a letter from the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, and Philando Castile, together with Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and over 670 rights groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Human Rights Network, and myself as Senior Advisor, wrote a Coalition Letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council appealing that it swiftly convene a special session to investigate the escalating situation of police violence and repression of protests in the United States.
“Mamie Till Mobley made a decision to open the casket of her son Emmett Till so the world could see the atrocities Black people faced in America. I want people across the world and the leaders in the United Nations to see the video of my brother George Floyd, to listen to his cry for help, and I want them to answer his cry,” said Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd. “I appeal to the United Nations to help him. Help me. Help us. Help Black men and women in America.”
The Coalition Letter warned of an “unfolding grave human rights crisis” in the United States and describes the recent police killings of unarmed Black people as well as police use of excessive force to suppress protests as violations of United States obligations under international law. It called on the U.N. to mandate an independent inquiry into the killings and violent law enforcement responses to protests, including the attacks against protesters and journalists. The letter also calls for a U.N. investigation into President Trump’s order that maximum force be used.
“We are greatly concerned that rather than using his position to serve as a force for calm and unity, President Trump has chosen to weaponize the tensions through his rhetoric, evidenced by his promise to seize authority from Governors who fail to take the most extreme tactics against protestors and to deploy federal armed forces against protestors (an action which would be of questionable legality).”
“Our greatest concern is that the violence and counter-violence are diverting the gaze of the global community away from the pain being expressed by a nation in mourning over the callous manner of the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that ended George Floyd’s life while a group of police stood and watched, about the death of more than 100,000 souls from the coronavirus – disproportionately killing Black, Brown and Indigenous people – and about how injustice never ends and equality never comes. There is serious concern that the tear gas and police-induced havoc will obscure the legitimate passion of these demonstrations. The voices of the demonstrators must be heard. Their demand is that the endemic racism, hatred, fear and disparity finally be confronted.”
The call for a meaningful response from the UN Human Rights Council was joined by other human rights officials: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “we need to raise our voices against all expressions of racism and instances of racist behavior.” The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, called for serious action to halt US police killings of unarmed African Americans and a Joint statement by 45 Special Procedures Experts of the HR Council said “[t]he uprising nationally is a protest against systemic racism that produces state-sponsored racial violence, and licenses impunity for this violence.”
The CERD Committee issued a very strong statement under its Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures expressing grave concern over the “horrific killing of George Floyd” and calls for accountability and immediate and appropriate reforms aimed at eliminating racially disparate impacts or structural discrimination in the police and the criminal justice system.
In a joint OpEd signed by all the Under-Secretary Generals of the UN, they committed to take effective actions that will go beyond words.
And the African Group (which represents 54 UN Member States from the African continent) requested an “urgent debate” during the Human Rights Council session “on the current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protest.”
In an unprecedented move, the Human Rights Council session began with a video appeal from the Special Rapporteur on Racism, Tendayi Achi---, that broke with all traditions of diplomatic double-speak in challenging the Council to not miss this chance to be on the right side of history. That was followed by an impassioned appeal by video from the brother of George Floyd.
As negotiations started on the strong draft resolution submitted by the African Group, it became clear that we were up against formidable headwinds. We were told that representatives of the US were “bullying” delegates: for example, threatening to impact the foreign assistance to their countries unless all references to the US is deleted along with the call for the establishment of a commission of inquiry—even demanding the name of George Floyd be deleted. Over the next few days, the forces against us succeeded in watering down the resolution until only its bare bones remained.
Still, the final resolution calls on the High Commissioner to prepare a comprehensive report on systematic racism, policing practices such as that led to the killing of George Floyd, violence against protesters, and related incidents globally. This is a significant step forward in a continuing struggle.
Monday, February 3, 2020
The Vienna and Geneva offices of the United Nations were hacked. The hack was reported to be a sophisticated one that usually indicates espionage. Dozens of servers were compromised, including the Human Rights Office. According to ABC News, the level of sophistication was so high that a state-level actor is suspected. The UN claims that no sensitive information was obtained.
Reports claim that "The hack comes at a time when concerns about computer and mobile phone vulnerabilities, for large organizations such as governments and the U.N. as well as for individuals and businesses" and "there is no indication that data was exfiltrated from Vienna" which is the UN's home to their office on Drugs and Crime.
Monday, February 4, 2019
The US has never had a faithful relationship with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). When the UNESCO was young, the US wanted a voice in the education in Germany and other Axis countries to ensure that the history of World War II was taught accurately. Beyond a desire to influence education, the US never viewed UNESCO as an organization of influence.
During the Reagan administration, the US left UNESCO and then rejoined during the George W. Bust administration when in post-911 efforts to ensure the support of other nations, UNESCO was seen as a way to accomplish US goals. As more and more countries joined UNESCO the US's vote carried little influence while the US claims to be paying a disproportionately portion of the UNESCO budget.
US Funding for UNESCO was halted during the Obama administration because of the organization's recognition of the Palestinian state in 2011. At this point the US has accrued $600 million in unpaid dues. While the Trump administration announced the withdrawal in 2017, formal withdrawal happened last week. The Trump administration added claims that UNESCO has an anti-Israeli bias to the reasons for US withdrawal.
Monday, January 7, 2019
In an earlier blog post, we discussed the worries of human rights advocates, one of which was a concern that the US was no longer cooperating with international human rights reports. In a move that signals the US moving in that direction, the Guardian reported that the US has stopped responding to special rapporteur complaints of human rights violations within our borders.
Reportedly the US stopped responding to complaints last May. 13 inquiries have gone unanswered. The prior administration invited 16 Special Rapporteurs to visit the US. The current administration has invited none. The US responded badly to the June report filed by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty criticizing the US failure to address poverty within its borders. Then UN Ambassador Nikki Haley fired back that the report was biased and time would be better spent investigating other countries. UN rapporteurs are unable to submit reports to the UN Human Rights Council without an official visit.
Without US cooperation concerns such as treatment of border migrants are unlikely to be investigated and reported by the UN. Unofficial visits can happen, of course, but resulting reports will not have official sanction of the UN Human Rights Council. Perhaps one remedy is for the Council to create another tier of reporting, one that would accommodate investigations that have not been invited by the country whose conditions are being investigated. Unofficial reporting of investigated conditions could be published, which would greatly assist local US advocates in dealing with municipalities to find remedies for inhumane conditions.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Reportedly, the Trump administration is considering withdrawing the US from the UN Human Rights Council.
The reported reasons are the council's treatment of the Jewish state as unfair. Other reasons include that countries with gross human rights violations are permitted to sit on the council. President George W. Bush had similar concerns, but President Obama reversed the Bush decision.
That the administration is considering withdrawal is no surprise, but nonetheless is another move with shocking consequences. One wonders about the integrity behind the concerns. A strong supporter of long-time ally Israel, Trump's protest is understandable. But what is concerning is that US withdrawal would come at a time when human rights are being restricted within our boarders. The immigration orders and enforcement tactics ignore human rights. Muhammad Ali, Jr. and his mother were detained at a Florida airport because of their names and reportedly were questioned extensively about their religion. A French historian who is a visiting professor at Texas A & M was detained for 10 hours and nearly deported. President Trump instructed law enforcement to make crimes committed by the undocumented "highly publicized" while at the same time NYT, CNN and others were prevented from attending a briefing with press secretary Spicer.
At the same time, women's rights and rights of minorities are waning. Assaults on women, Jews, Muslims, and racial minorities have increased since the inauguration, if not the election.
Refusal to participate by Pres. Bush did not carry the same veiled threat as does a refusal to participate made by President Trump. Non-participation at this point removes another possible source of help that might otherwise be available to US citizens who wish to stop the erosion of their human rights. While withdrawal may be symbolic in many ways, one of those symbols is an ongoing attempt to eliminate human rights in the US.
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
One hundred forty characters is not really enough to do justice to the wide-ranging work of the United Nations. But that didn't stop President-elect Trump from trying to use his twitter account to do just that, calling the UN "just a club for people to have a good time." It's unfortunate that the President-elect doesn't have a better understanding of the UN's work and the US role in this international body.
First, it's worth noting that there is great depth of popular support for the UN within the United States. When the Pew Foundation conducted an in-depth study just this past spring, it found that 64 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the United Nations. While this number masked a significant partisan divide, with Democrats much more likely than Republicans to support the UN, the president-elect would do well to note that one of the key constituencies in his electoral college victory, Independents, also registered 64 percent support.
Second, the President-elect may be unaware of the importance of UN, and US, leadership in furthering human rights worldwide. For all of the internal critiques of the Obama administration's human rights record, the Administration's engagement with UN agencies over eight years has certainly increased global awareness of the positive aspects of US human rights achievements. Under Obama, the United States has regularly submitted reports to UN bodies concerning its human rights record and goals, a practice that then gives our country additional credibility when we criticize human rights failings elsewhere. Further, the current Administration has begun using the human rights reporting process to engage our own state and local governments in achieving -- and highlighting -- national human rights goals. Yes, we may use this platform to tout our own achievements (Obamacare is one of them), but these UN treaty monitoring bodies are far from feel-good social clubs. The international human rights dialogue moderated by these bodies is real and constructive, and the US would lose both stature and credibility it if scaled back its robust participation.
Finally, the incoming Administration's tweets do nothing to address the growing concern across America -- in states of all hues -- that human rights are of little import to the President-elect. This year's Human Rights Day on December 9 was accompanied by columns, op eds and protests around the country from concerned citizens. In 2008, even before he took the oath of office, the incoming President Obama issued a stirring statement on human rights day signalling US commitment to these issues. The President issued similar statements each year during his two terms, concluding with the Presidential Proclamation commemorating human rights week in 2016. Sadly, to date we've had only tweets from the incoming administration.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established in 2002 by the Commission on Human Rights. Among the Group's 2008 charges were to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the diaspora and, to that end, gather all relevant information from Governments, non-governmental organizations and other relevant sources. The means of gathering relevant information include holding public meetings. The Group is instructed to propose measures to ensure full and effective access to the justice system by people of African descent.
The findngs document a US history of racial terrorism. Among the working group's findings are: "In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent," the report stated. "Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching."
Recognizing police killing of unarmed black men as having created a crisis, the Working Group reports that there is a sense of urgency to resolve this human rights crisis.
The Working Group made many suggestions that would go a long way in remedying institutional racism. Among the recommendations are:
Immediately abolish police in schools.
Police misconduct investigations to be conducted by independent investigators.
Misdemeanor laws that result in the over-charging and over-incarceration of people of color be abolished. One example given is South Carolina's law making a school disturbance a misdemeanor.
That younger prisoners be separated from adults and male prisoners from female ones.
The Group addressed reparations as one remedy. From apology and debt cancellation to educational and healthcare opportunities, the Group addressed steps that are critical to addressing the consequences of societal and institutional racism.
The problem with reparations is that in order to arrive at a place where Americans endorse them, the place where the culture is ready to recognize the harm must first be reached. We are a long way from there. Achieving recognition of the state's contributions to extreme suffering forced upon African Americans is not hopeless thanks to the new wave of activism, including Black Lives Matter. However, President Obama' election unleased racism across the country. Undermining the power of the first black president became the goal of those in the political and social systems. The fact that any new social legislation passed over the past eight years is nothing short of a miracle. The racism obvious in the current presidential election politics provides a vehicle for individuals to act on their persistent white supremacy beliefs. We will find out soon if political racism can be defeated in our upcoming elections.
But as the working group found, racial terrorism has created a crisis in America. Perhaps this crisis will collide with new wave activism and create a real opportunity for the country to admit the heinousness of the aftermath of slavery. One day it may be that a series of crisis or one horrendous crisis will result in a serious discussion on how to repair the damage we have done.
The findings are worth a read in their entirety. The Group brings to its report the clarity that often comes from outsiders looking in. The diagnoses of the problems is accurate and the suggested remedies thoughtful.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Risa E. Kaufman, Executive Director, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute
This is turning out to be quite a year for U.S. engagement with UN human rights experts. Last month, at a meeting with U.S. human rights advocates, the State Department announced that three UN special procedures will make official visits to the United States between now and the end of the calendar year. Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, plans to visit the United States from July 11-25, 2016. The UN Working Group on arbitrary detentions and the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons will each visit the U.S. The trafficking expert's visit is set for December 5-16, 2016, while the Working Group dates are TBD. Special procedures (which include Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups) are independent human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor human rights situations in specific countries or related to a thematic issue throughout the world.
The newly announced visits come on the heels of recent visits to the United States by the UN Working Group on discrimination against women (November 30-December 11, 2015) and the UN Working Group on people of African Descent (January 19-29, 2016). Each of those visits concluded with a strong press statement summarizing the group’s findings during the course of the visit. The Working Groups will present their formal reports and recommendations later this year.
These UN human rights experts are among the 41 special procedure thematic mandates covering a diverse range of issues, including torture, mercenaries, and the rights of human rights defenders, as well as education, migrants, and food. Special procedures base their evaluations on standards drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights norms. They are not limited in their review by whether a country has ratified a particular treaty, a fact that is especially relevant with respect to the United States.
The official country visit is a key working method of the special procedures. The experts may make such visits only upon receiving a formal invitation from the country’s government. One hundred and fifteen UN member countries, not including the United States, have issued a standing invitation to the special procedures. For several years, U.S. human rights advocates have urged the United States to invite the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, to examine solitary confinement practices in U.S. prisons, and to meet with people imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. has not yet extended an invitation allowing the requested access.
But special procedures aren’t limited to making official country visits. They also can receive and act on allegations of human rights recommendations from impacted individuals and communities, as well as conduct thematic studies and develop reports on crosscutting and systemic human rights concerns. And they can work more informally, including by conducting unofficial visits, participating in hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and issuing press statements. Just last week, three UN special procedures -- the Special Rapporteurs on housing, extreme poverty, and water and sanitation -- issued a joint press release on the human rights impacts of the contaminated water supply in Flint, Michigan, in advance of President Obama’s visit to Flint.
How can U.S. advocates make the most of the upcoming visits and other opportunities for engagement with these UN human rights experts? In 2015, the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institutedeveloped a guide for effective advocacy with the UN special procedures, geared towards U.S. advocates. And, next month, the Institute is hosting a full day symposium (and free CLE) on the topic. (Registersoon, as space in limited.)
The US Human Rights Network (USHRN) will share information on the recently announced visits as such information becomes available. Join the USHRN’s International Mechanisms listserv to stay posted. And, if your organization is interested coordinating aspects of the visit, contact USHRN’s coordinating center.
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.
Sunday, March 6, 2016
Following September 2001, the United States government declared a ‘war on terror’ and embarked upon a program of extraordinary rendition and unlawful prisoner transfers, interrogation by torture, and a global system of detention outside the law. Since that time, there has been a concerted and global effort to bring about accountability for the U.S. rendition and torture program.
This policy report reviews new developments to obtain compliance with U.S. human rights obligations and relief for victims of torture, including U.S. commitments made to the UN Committee Against Torture and the UN Human Rights Council, the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on Torture, decisions by international and foreign courts, reports by journalists who continue to expose and educate the public about the U.S. Rendition and Interrogation Program, as well as the ongoing advocacy of committed human rights organizations.
These efforts have served to encourage accountability. While the U.S. government continues to refuse to “look back” and prevents torture victims from advancing their claims, it is nonetheless crucial to take stock of changed circumstances and determine how they may best serve ongoing advocacy efforts on behalf of torture victims. We believe that the task of advocates is to press into service the recent U.S. commitments, disclosures, judicial theories, advocacy strategies, and the global concerns that point to accountability and remedy for torture.