On International Human Rights Day, Report Calls For Reform
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NEW YORK – Access to justice for victims of civil and human rights violations has been severely curbed over the last decade, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union. The report shows how indigent defendants on death row, prisoners suffering abuses in prison, immigrants in unfair removal proceedings, torture victims, domestic violence survivors and victims of racial discrimination, among others, are consistently denied access to the courts and effective remedies as a result of recent laws and court decisions.
"Unfortunately, because of recent laws and court decisions, victims of human rights violations here in the U.S. are continually denied their day in court while those responsible for the abuses are protected," said Jennifer Turner, Human Rights Researcher with the ACLU and author of the report. "Equal justice for all is a core American value and everyone deserves access to the courts to right wrongs done against them. The U.S. should amend restrictive laws and swiftly enact policies to restore access to justice for the most vulnerable among us."
According to the report, "Slamming the Courthouse Doors," the "[a]ctions of the executive, federal legislative, and judicial branches of the United States have seriously restricted access to justice for victims of civil liberties and human rights violations, and have limited the availability of effective (or, in some cases, any) remedies for these violations. Weakened judicial oversight and recent attempts to limit access to justice…are denying victims of human rights violations their day in court and protecting responsible officials and corporations from litigation."
The report details the many ways in which victims of human rights abuses are denied access to justice, including:
- individuals convicted of capital crimes who seek to present newly found evidence of their innocence or claims of serious constitutional violations being denied recourse in the courts because of federal legislation and recent court decisions;
- victims of rape, assault, religious rights violations and other serious abuses in prison having their claims thrown out of court because of a restrictive federal law;
- immigrants who may have legitimate claims to remain in the United States unknowingly waiving their opportunity to pursue these claims and being swiftly deported because of unfair procedures;
- torture victims, including survivors of the CIA "extraordinary rendition" program, being denied their day in court because the government has misused the "state secrets" privilege to shield their torturers from liability;
- victims of domestic violence being denied the opportunity to seek civil remedy under the Violence Against Women Act because of recent court decisions; and
- victims of racial or national origin discrimination, including victims of racial profiling, being shut out of court because their claims must be accompanied by proof of intentional discrimination, not just the disparate impact – however egregious – of certain laws and policies.
The report includes detailed recommendations and measures for the U.S. government to take in order to live up to the promise of equal justice for all and comply with international human rights obligations and commitments to guarantee access to justice and effective remedies. An annex to the report includes information on curtailing access to justice in over a dozen states.
"Slamming the Courthouse Doors" is available online at: www.aclu.org/human-rights/slamming-courthouse-doors-denial-access-justice-and-remedy-america