Sep 02 2011

Update on our complaints of human rights treaty violations

As we’ve noted previously, we’ve been complaining for years that DHS and Department of State actions to restrict and control travel violate the freedom of movement guaranteed by international human rights treaties ratified by the U.S. (as well as, of course, the right to assemble guaranteed  by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).

We’ve made formal complaints of these violations to the DHS and to the State Department.

Executive Order 13107 requires all Federal agencies to designate a single point of contact for such complaints, and to respond to them. But we’ve received no response to any of these complaints.

To find out what (if anything) has been done with our complaints, or to whom (if anyone) they have been assigned, we had to file FOIA requests with both the DHS and the State Department.

The DHS office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) responded promptly to our FOIA request. But other than the order from Secretary Chertoff designating the CRCL as responsible for coordinating DHS compliance with human rights treaties and responding to complaints (which wasn’t issued until September 11, 2006, almost five years after the creation of the DHS, they could find no record that the DHS had ever done anything to act on complaints of human rights violations. There were no records of any meetings at which the subject was on the agenda, no records of complaints (except our own, which was only properly docketed, five years late, after we made a formal Privacy Act request to correct the record), no logs or reports of such complaints, no instructions to DHS component agencies as to how to handle such complaints, and no organizational chart on which anyone was identified as responsible for responding to such complaints.

We’re looking forward to a meeting which the CRCL has agreed to later this month in Washington to discuss how they might finally begin to fulfill their responsibilities under international human rights treaties, particularly with respect to complaints of violations.

The State Department has been even less responsive. They have ignored repeated requests to identify who, if anyone, the Secretary of State has designated as the officer who is supposed to be responsible for responding to complaints like ours of human rights treaty violations. Months have passed, and we’ve received no response whatsoever to our FOIA request and no estimate of when, if ever, they expect to give us an answer.

In an effort to try everything possible way to get the information to which we are entitled without a lawsuit, we’ve asked the FOIA ombudsmen at the new Office of Government Information Services to help mediate our FOIA request to the Department of State as well as several of our years-old unanswered FOIA requests to the TSA. We’re waiting to see if they can persuade these agencies to comply without our having to sue them. We’ll keep you posted.

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