Human Rights

Human Rights

Human Rights Begin at Home

The ACLU Human Rights Program works to ensure that the U.S. government complies with universal human rights principles in addition to the U.S. Constitution. The Program uses human rights strategies to complement existing ACLU advocacy. More

In 2004, the ACLU created a Human Rights Program (HRP) specifically dedicated to holding the U.S. government accountable to universal human rights principles in addition to rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. HRP is part of a reemerging movement of U.S. based organizations that uses the international human rights framework in domestic rights advocacy.

HRP uses human rights strategies to complement existing ACLU legal and legislative advocacy and to advance social justice in the following areas:

To this end, HRP conducts human rights education and training sessions, and engages in advocacy and litigation before U.S. courts and international bodies, including the United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms (such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights).

By invoking international human rights sources, the ACLU has been able to make advances when previous concerns were dismissed by the courts. Having adopted an integrative approach to human rights advocacy that incorporates community organizing and coalition building, in ad­dition to utilizing litigation and legisla­tive strategies, HRP is strengthening its work to advance human rights in the United States.


Muneer Awad v. Paul Ziriax, Oklahoma State Board of Elections, et al.

Ali v. Rumsfeld IACHR petition

Military Contractor Human Trafficking FOIA

See all current cases »

Additional Resources

ACLU Shadow Report to the 3rd-5th Periodic Reports of the United States, Submitted to the 53rd Session of the UN Committee Against Torture (2014 resource): In 1994, the United States ratified the world's landmark international treaty banning torture and cruel treatment: The Convention Against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. On November 12th and 13th, the U.S. will go before the U.N. Committee Against Torture to report on progress made with respect to treaty implementation and compliance.

ACLU Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council Working Group on the UPR (2014 resource): In May 2015, the United States will be going before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to defend its domestic human rights record as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). In September 2014, the ACLU submitted a report to the Council, highlighting issue areas where the U.S. is failing to meet its international human rights commitments.

ACLU ICERD Shadow Report to the U.S. Periodic Report (2014 resource): In August 2014, the United States government will be reviewed on its compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in Geneva. The review will be conducted by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to which the U.S. submitted its combined Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Periodic Report in June 2013. In preparation for the upcoming review, the ACLU has released its shadow report to the U.S. Periodic Report.

Statement of American Civil Liberties Union, Submitted to the 57th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (2014 resource): The ACLU submitted its statement to the 57th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs under the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, addressing the "War on Drugs" and harsh criminalization policies that have led to over-incarceration and large racial disparities in drug sentencing.

ACLU amicus brief on the proposed Consent Decree; ACLU amicus brief on the proposed Consent Decree's provisions concerning the policing and prevention of domestic and sexual violence (2013 resources): The ACLU filed amicus briefs in a United States Department of Justice suit against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Police Department for the police department's pattern and practice of constitutional violations.

ACLU and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute Suggested List of Issues to Country Report Task Force on the United States (2012 resource): The ACLU and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute submitted a report to the Human Rights Committee regarding the United States' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

ACLU Suggested List of Issues to U.N. Country Report Task Force on U.S. Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (2012 resource): The ACLU submitted a report to the Human Rights Committee as part of a larger civil society effort to inform the international human rights community about the situation of human rights in the United States.

ACLU Backs Strong Speech Stance After "Muslims" Video Backlash (2012 blog): The ACLU sent a letter to the State Department thanking Secretary Clinton for the department’s unwavering defense of basic free speech principles in the backlash over the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” video.

Make My Case Count! (2011 blog): My name is Jessica Lenahan and I am a survivor of domestic violence and an advocate for battered women and children. Six years ago, I turned to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an international tribunal responsible for promoting and protecting human rights throughout the Americas, because the justice system in the United States had abandoned me.

ACLU Calls on President Obama to Address Police Brutality in Puerto Rico (2011 press release): On June 10th, the ACLU called on President Obama to press Puerto Rican leaders about a pattern of police brutality and governmental suppression of First Amendment rights during his historic visit to the Island. In the letter, we highlighted ACLU preliminary findings based on interviews that reveal systematic violations of freedoms of speech, peaceable assembly and freedom from violence through police assaults on students, labor leaders, demonstrators, journalists and low-income, black and Dominican communities on a regular basis.

Police Brutality and Suppression of First Amendment Rights in Puerto Rico (2011 resource): Under the Constitution, Puerto Ricans are entitled to the same fundamental rights and protections everyone else in America. But, over the last few years, police brutality and limitations on freedom of assembly and expression in Puerto Rico have escalated at an alarming rate. First documented by the ACLU in 2004, these abuses have increased both in their frequency and intensity since 2008.

ACLU And CAIR Urge Court To Uphold Ruling Blocking Oklahoma Sharia And International Law Ban (2011 press release): President Obama is considering issuing an executive order on human rights. The Executive Order would address the human rights obligations of the United States and put concrete action behind President Obama's recognition that human rights begin at home... 

Bans on Sharia and International Law (2011 resource): In a disturbing trend, anti-Muslim bigotry has recently crept into state legislatures around the country. Several states have passed or attempted to pass laws designed to prevent courts from applying Islamic or “Sharia” law, as well as “foreign” or “international law.” Attempts to prevent courts from considering international or foreign law suffer from constitutional flaws and undermine the ability of courts to interpret laws and treaties regarding global business, international human rights and family law issues such as international marriages and adoptions. And efforts to single out Muslims and to advance the ugly idea that anything Islamic is un-American are unjust and discriminatory and should be rejected.

Indian Guestworkers Ask Federal Court To Certify Largest Human Trafficking Civil Suit In U.S. History As Class Action (2011 press release)

Report from U.N. Human Rights Expert Expresses Grave Concern over Deportations to Haiti (2011 press release)

ACLU and Human Rights at Home Campaign Remind Obama Administration of Its Obligation to Implement Global Treaty Against Racial Discrimination (2011 blog post)

Abuse Of The Human Rights Of Prisoners In The United States: Solitary Confinement (2011 resource)

Civil And Human Rights Groups Ask For Further U.N. Involvement To End Racial Discrimination In U.S. (2011 press release)

FAQ: The Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) (2006 resource)

Most Popular

U.N. to Confront United States on Persistent Racial Discrimination (2014 blog)

What We Stand For (2010 blog)

On Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, ACLU Sees America's Reputation as Human Rights Leader Diminished (2006 press release)

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Should Investigate U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing Deaths (2009 press release)

Settlement Secures Major Reforms at Brooklyn Hospital Where Patient Died on Waiting Room Floor (2010 press release)

Statement: Khaled El-Masri (2005 resource)

Video of Haitian Deportees Brings Home the Reality of Disgraceful ICE Removal Policy (2011 blog post)

Soldiers of Misfortune: Abusive U.S. Military Recruitment and Failure to Protect Child Soldiers (2008 resource)

ACLU Sues State Over Inhumane, Illegal Treatment of Teenage Prisoner (2009 press release)

Sheriff Joe's Inhumane Circus (2009 blog)

Statistics image