Human Rights First Welcomes First U.S. Human Rights Record Report to UN Human Rights Council

Human Rights First today welcomed the U.S. government’s release of its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report, a self-evaluation of the U.S. record of compliance with its international human rights treaty obligations.  This morning, the Obama administration submitted the report to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in advance of the Human Rights Council’s scheduled review of the U.S. record at its session in November.

Human Rights First notes that the report builds on the United States’ 2009 decision to join the Human Rights Council, and the nation’s robust participation in the UPR process is an important step in rebuilding U.S. human rights leadership. 

“The very fact that the United States is participating in the review process is significant,” stated Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke. “We urge the administration to see this report not just as an opportunity to defend the positive aspects of its human rights record, but as one step in an ongoing process to address shortcomings and commit to concrete improvements. That is the underlying purpose of the UPR and improved compliance is the example that the United States can set for other countries.”

The Obama administration conferred extensively with civil society over the past year as it prepared the report.  There were consultations with civil society throughout the country, including two—in El Paso, Texas and Washington, DC—co-hosted by Human Rights First.

“This effort brought concerns about U.S. compliance with its international treaty obligations directly to the attention of senior federal, state and local officials. While we welcome the report’s recognition that the United States has many challenges remaining in its pursuit of ‘a more perfect union,’ we are disappointed that it does not reflect more serious consideration of the specific concerns and recommendations made by civil society groups during the consultation process,” said Stahnke.

The report highlighted extensive protections in U.S. law and practice for human rights as well as several important steps recently taken to improve human rights and U.S. adherence to international standards including:

  • Issuance of the Executive Order 13491 on Ensuring Lawful Interrogation which ended the use of secret cruel interrogation techniques and closed secret CIA prisons.
  • Continued commitment to close Guantánamo Bay and to the premise that there are no “law-free zones.”
  • Revised parole guidelines for individuals in expedited removal proceedings found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture.
  • Enactment of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 bolstering the U.S. government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes, including those motivated by animus based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

“Despite recent improvements, U.S. human rights compliance continues to fall short of its obligations in several areas,” noted Stahnke. “The report fails to detail these shortfalls, and we urge that they be addressed as the UPR process moves forward.”

For example, in order to fulfill its human rights obligations, the United States must:

  • End indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantánamo and Afghanistan as well as trials, including of juveniles, before flawed military commissions pursuant to Article 9(4) and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
  • Provide accountability for perpetrators of torture and other detainee abuse and ensure adequate remedies for the victims of such abuse pursuant to Article 7 and 14 of The Convention against Torture (CAT) and Article 2 of the ICCPR.
  • Provide access to immigration court custody hearings for arriving asylum seekers as required by Article 9(4) of the ICCPR and Article 31 of the 1967 Refugee Protocol.
  • End prison-like conditions of immigration detention, in line with the administration’s intention announced in August and October 2009 consistent with Article 10 of the ICCPR and Article 31 of the Refugee Convention.

The administration’s willingness to participate in the UPR process and to submit itself to the accompanying international scrutiny is a crucial step in identifying further needed reforms.  Human Rights First looks forward to working with the administration and the Congress to ensure that the process of consultation leading up to this report continues and results in concrete improvements to U.S. human rights compliance.

Human Rights First’s submission on the U.S. Universal Periodic Review to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights can be accessed here, and a guide to key issues of concern for refugees can be found here. Every member State of the United Nations undergoes the Universal Periodic Review process every four years.

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