Thursday, August 26, 2010

U.S. State Department Releases Human Rights Report

Earlier this week, the United States submitted to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights a report on the U.S. human rights record. The report is part of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The UPR was established by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as a process through which the human rights records of the United Nations’ 192 Member States could be reviewed and assessed. This review is conducted through the UN Human Rights Council and is based upon human rights obligations and commitments expressed in various international instruments, including the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and human rights instruments to which the State is party.  Individual countries are scheduled for review every four years.  According to the U.S. State Department, this latest review involved "an unprecedented level of  consultation and engagement with civil society across the country."  The review included input from the White House, the Department of Justice, and at least ten other federal departments and offices.

The United States reports that it does well in the areas of protecting free speech and religion and political participation.  With respect to equal protection of the laws, the report admits that while the United States has "made great strides, work remains to meet [its] goal of ensuring equality before the law for all."   While cataloguing some of the improvements the United States has made in racial equality, the report also acknowledges that unemployment rates are unacceptably higher for some minority groups, such as African Americans and Native Americans, and that there is an "education gap" between white children and African American and Hispanic children that must be addressed.  The report states that more work needs to be done to ensure better access for disabled persons.  The report also recognizes continued discrimination against certain minority groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons, Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asian-Americans.  The report also discusses work int the area of gender equality and the treatment of immigrants. 

With respect to its international commitments, the United States points out that it is the largest donor of development aid.  The report further states that the United States believes there are no "law free zones" and that every person is entitled to the protection of the law.  United States law prohibits "torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of persons in the custody or control of the U.S. Government, regardless of their nationality or physical location."

The report’s submission is one step in the UPR process. The next step will be a formal presentation by the U.S. government to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in November. The full report is available here.


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