U.S.’s First Report to UN Human Rights Council Admits Shortcomings

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August 30, 2010

On Aug. 20, 2010, the U.S. government made public its report on its human rights record to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report is one step in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process in which UN member-state’s human rights records is examined once every four years. This is the first time the U.S. has submitted a report on its human rights record, and its work drew mixed reviews from civil rights and liberty advocates who had hoped it would reflect more of the concerns and recommendations raised by the U.S. nonprofit sector. The U.S.’ review before the UN is scheduled for Nov. 5, 2010 in Geneva, Switzerland. 

Along with outlining the protections for human rights found in U.S. law, the 29 page report identified areas for improvement, including:

  • Reevaluating the efficiency and legality of surveillance “laws, rules, regulations, and policies designed to protect national security and privacy.”
  • Reviewing guidelines relating to the use of race by law enforcement agencies, and combating discrimination and intolerance against members of Muslim, Arab-American and South Asian communities.
  • Upholding domestic and international laws.

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the internal review but said the report neglected to address key areas where the U.S. has not met its human rights obligations. Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU's human rights program, said, “While this report demonstrates the Obama administration's willingness to recommit to engagement on international human rights, the administration must now prove that it is prepared to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk.” 

State Department spokesman P J Crowley said the report “stands as just one element of a broad US effort to engage constructively with the UN and other international organizations.” 

In addition to the nearly two dozen consultation sessions the State Department held across the country, several nonprofit groups organized and submitted comments on a wide range of human rights issues. The Charity and Security Network’s submission called on the U.S. government to “re-assess its national security and counterterrorism laws as applied to civil society organizations.” (See the entire submission here.)  The U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN) coordinated the filing of 26 reports highlighting the shortcomings of U.S. compliance with several human rights treaties, and on issues as diverse as homelessness and the death penalty.

Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director of USHRN said, “We remain concerned that the report will be seen as an end point rather than a springboard to action.” 

The U.S.’ UPR is scheduled for Nov. 5, when administrative officials will meet with some members of the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) to discuss the U.S.’ human rights record. Next, France, Japan and Cameroon will offer recommendations for the U.S. to the entire HRC to consider on Nov. 9. The three countries to review the U.S. were chosen at random. For more about the UPR process, click here