The United States Considers Itself a Human Rights Champion. The World Begs to Differ.

Starting Monday, the United States' human rights record will be subject to international scrutiny by the U.N. Human Rights Council. It may just be the perfect catalyst for the Obama administration to make good on past and present wrongs that should never be associated with a liberal democracy predicated on respect for human rights.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is part of a regular examination of the human rights records of all 193 U.N. member countries and will be the second review of its kind for the U.S. since 2010.  The review comes at a critical time when the U.S. human rights record has been criticized for falling short of meeting international human rights standards. From racially biased policing and excessive use of force by law enforcement to the expansion of migrant family detention and from the lack of accountability for the CIA torture program to the use of armed drones abroad, the U.S. has a lot to answer for.

But the U.S. review presents an opportunity for President Obama to shape his human rights legacy. He not only has the chance to continue to hold state and local governments in the U.S. accountable for abusive and biased policing practices, but he can also establish a positive policy at the federal level such as ending racial and ethnic profiling and holding federal agencies responsible for unlawful and discriminatory practices, including border killings and surveillance of Muslim communities.

The world will be asking hard questions of a country that considers itself a human rights champion, and, as the UPR represents the final human rights review of the Obama administration, it will be expecting meaningful answers and a concrete plan of action, including in the area of economic justice, which the U.S. submission to the Human Rights Council regrettably referred to as social and economic "measures" rather than the universally accepted framework and terminology of "rights."

What human rights legacy will the president leave behind in January 2017? Will President Obama be remembered as a leader who approved secret kill-lists, institutionalized the use of indefinite detention, and failed to end unlawful surveillance practices? Or will the president endorse accountability for torture and provide an apology and reparations for victims, including the 26 former CIA detainees who the U.S. Senate torture report found were wrongfully detained? Will President Obama heed the recommendations made by former Justice John Paul Stevens, who this week called the government to compensate some of the Guantanamo detainees, or will he be seen as the president who turned a blind eye to injustice?

Will the president be remembered for expanding immigrant family detention and using it as deterrence factor to discourage migrants and asylum seekers, including mothers and children, from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, or will he leave a legacy of a more fair and humane immigration system that endorses alternatives to detention?

Finally, will we hear more rhetoric and empty promises, like in 2010, or concrete commitments and a plan of action that will prove that President Obama means what he says when it comes to defending human dignity and upholding international law?

The Obama administration has an opportunity to right these wrongs and set a higher bar and better example for both future administrations and other countries. On Monday, the world will be watching to see whether the Obama administration will stand on the right side of history.

Watch the live cast at 9 a.m., Geneva time (3 a.m. EST), on May 11 here:

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Judith Blau

Its not just Obama! Torture and surveillance were put in place before him. Besides, we do not have human rights in the US, we have political and civil rights yanked from a reluctant congress (so says the 1st amendment). The US does not ratify human rights treaties or OAS treaties, but loves free trade treaties.

Robyn Ryan

America has been an Imperial colonial power. We have overextended ourselves at the expense of the nation. Now, we pay.

Julia Jones

The United Stated of America now has voter suppression laws in several states in the South. These laws exist solely to keep a certain segment of society, our black citizens, from voting. Women have been demonized by the extreme right, who view women as little more than chattel. Women's reproductive rights, along with inequality in pay, have made women second class citizens.


And let's not forget the role of the US in the apartheid and ethnic cleansing being carried out by Israel, its ally and purported only democracy in the mideast. This complicity is the biggest threat to our own security, and it's long past time to end it.


Hi Judith, if you are talking about waterboarding as torture, my military daughter would disagree. It is part of training for certain personelle. It IS scary, but you don't die, although people usually die when they are shot in the head or beheaded.

I do not care for extreme surveilence, but spying has taken place since George Washington and before. I would agree that it has gone too far. It is totally against the US Constitution, as I see that you know you amendments, although I would agree that there is a positive side to it when governments are good and love our country. I could not say that about Obama OR previous administrations.

I believe that presidents sometimes have no choice to do certain things. World banking families give some orders to presidents. Proof could be that no president has exposed the Federal Reserve and its fiat currency. Presidents have limited say on what goes on with or our money.

Daniel Buswell

I would love to see some accountability for the broken treaties with Native Americans and the hundreds of billions of dollars in stolen revenue, mismanagement of lands and resources and continued theft of lands and resources by the BIA and Congress.

Daniel Buswell

I would also like it mentioned, the hundreds of Native American women who are being murdered, raped and exploited in the oil fields of North Dakota and Canada with little to no protection or justice.


The reasons the US is hesitant to sign international treaties or submit to international review are apparent from your biased article: 1. How are we to be judged by the likes of Libya, Iran, Russia, who flagrantly abuse their captive populations? 2. We are at war with radical Islam. Drone attacks save American lives and other lives and allow us to eliminate Muslim terrorists; 3. How else can we protect ourselves against the threat of Islamic terrorism than by (legally) monitoring Muslim populations in the US?


@ACLU, So when will this be addressed and exposed regarding "Economic Justice? GPO/WEP is worse than what Madoff did, and he sits in prison. What if a private investment firm, insurance company, or bank did this? Guess we all know the answer to that one. In other words, the government gets off the hook with no penalty. How about class action: broken contract, no knowledge, awareness, no time to plan otherwise or consent on our part, no intention of repaying us, violation of equality of pay act, and what has, by definition, become a targeted minority group. And our only recourse is to beg and wait forever to collect what is rightfully ours? And SS was what we considered retirement insurance? And Obama can do nothing via executive order, can't soften the blow? How about the DOJ or the the FED? IT'S SOCIAL INSECURITY for millions of public servants who never had the opportunity to invest in our own private annuities because we thought of Social Security as our safety net until we discovered that GPO/WEP confiscated our earned and paid for SS pensions. The little I did save was lost during the crash.If you talked to those people affected by GPO/WEP, you'd be shocked and outraged because of individual extenuating circumstances. What makes me so sad is it's not just about money. It's about our long, hard working lifetimes stolen from us. We will never regain or relive those years. The GPO/WEP has created yet another group of poverty stricken American taxpayers, another minority group so to speak without any personal control, awareness. consent, or knowledge, and apparently no intention of repaying us.. And another thing that should not be overlooked nor forgotten is the brutal effect especially the GPO had on WOMEN (our surviving widows and dependent children at college time), resulting in mounds of student loans and credit card debt. This is why I have always maintained that our government should make available LOW INTEREST OR NO INTEREST CONSOLIDATION LOANS to those of us affected by the outrageous, un-American GPO/WEP. That would certainly help us get back on our feet in our golden years and regain some portion of our lives that were lost as we believed in SS. OR, unlike the big banks and Wall Street, are we too unimportant to live in dignity and enjoy life? Another reason for the repeal is that public employees are working far, far beyond retirement age because of the penality of GPO/WEP. If repealed, thousands of public service jobs would NATURALLY be created. Last time I checked, America still needs jobs, right? Both groups (current elderly employees and new hireees) would certainly pump more money into the economy......another critical need of the USA. Please visit us at to educate, protect, and prepare yourselves because this obscure, 32 year old law could be affecting you without your knowledge as it did me and millions of others. Join our site to receive monthly newsletters. LIKE our Facebook page for important daily information, alerts , updates. Our committee has recently met with congress and delivered 2,000 of our confidential surveys which you can still take on our website and Facebook page,

L. Weber

@ACLU, Speaking of Economic Justice, why is it that the repeal of GPO and WEP is never discussed as a violation of human rights?included in expanding Social Security. So many millions of public servant employees and retirees are suffering and living in poverty after lifetimes of hard work. We at fight for justice and equality everyday for millions of Americans. We need your voice because the general public is not aware of this unfair, UN-AMERICAN, discriminating law. People, please educate, protect, prepare yourselves because this law might be affecting you without your knowledge. Our website will help you save your economic future. SHOULD NOT THE GOVERNMENT PROVIDE US WITH NO INTEREST CONSOLIDATION LOANS IN LIEU OF OUR CONFISCATED SS PENSION FUNDS? Nope, we are not the greedy big banks. We earned our money and deserve it regardless where it comes from. Thank you


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