U.S. Must Bring Domestic Human Rights In Line With International Standards, Says ACLU
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GENEVA – The U.S. government underwent the first-ever Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record before the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) today in Geneva. The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the U.S. participation in the UPR process as an important step toward protecting human rights at home, and said there are still many areas that need significant improvement in the U.S. The ACLU called on the Obama administration to address existing human rights violations and urged policy reform in order to comply with U.S. human rights obligations.
"The Obama administration should be commended for its participation in the UPR, which represents an important opportunity to address critical domestic human rights challenges. But in order to lead by example, this international engagement must be followed by concrete domestic policies and actions and a commitment to fixing all domestic human rights abuses – not just the ones that are most convenient," said Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "There is no better time to reflect honestly and exhaustively on our country's human rights record and to find a path forward toward correcting our shortcomings. The administration should take specific actions to assure domestic human rights are effectively monitored and enforced within the United States."
As part of the UPR process, the U.S. submitted a report in August to the HRC on its efforts to strengthen human rights commitments and comply with international human rights standards. Today, a U.S. delegation including representatives of the State, Justice, Homeland Security and Education Departments gave follow-up testimony and fielded questions from the HRC. Next week, the HRC will issue recommendations on how the U.S. can improve its human rights record and bring its laws, policies and practices in line with universal standards.
The U.S. report correctly acknowledged the need for improvement in several key areas, including racial justice, women's rights, LGBT and disability rights and discrimination against Muslims and Americans of South Asian and Arab descent. However, the report neglected to address other key areas where the U.S. has failed to meet its human rights obligations, including felon disfranchisement, inhumane prison conditions, flaws and racial disparities in the imposition of the death penalty, human rights abuses in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the broken and inhumane immigration detention system. And while the report reiterated the Obama administration's commitment to close Guantánamo, it defended the use of the discredited military commissions to try terrorism suspects despite their incompatibility with human rights law.
"The UPR process provides an opportunity for the United States to identify human rights violations, develop real solutions and bring our policies in line with international human rights standards," said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The Obama administration should set a good example by working with Congress and state and local governments to translate human rights commitments into domestic laws and policies that will have a positive impact on all people in America."
Representatives of the ACLU and other non-governmental organizations were in Geneva this week to brief HRC members on human rights in the United States, observe the review session today and participate in side events. ACLU representatives include Murphy, Dakwar, Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona, and Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program.
The ACLU submitted a report on the state of human rights in the U.S. to the HRC in April 2010. The report, which focused on lack of access to justice and effective remedies for human rights violations, is available online at: www.aclu.org/human-rights/un-universal-periodic-review-submission