Dec 01 2011

DHS responds to our complaints of human rights treaty violations

More than five years after we filed our first formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security that its travel surveillance and control programs violate U.S. international human rights obligations under freedom of movement) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we’ve finally received a response from the DHS Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. [Update: Our follow-up letter to DHS OCRCL requesting review of our complaints by the Interagency Working Group on Human Rights Treaties.]

The response dismisses all of our complaints, and indicates a disturbing failure to understand the fundamentals of international human rights law. For example, it repeatedly states that the policies we complained about were “authorized” by federal law, when under the Constitution no statute can authorize actions contrary to U.S. obligations under international treaties.

Nonetheless, this is the first time, so far as we can tell, that any Federal agency has formally acknowledged a complaint from the public as being a complaint of violation of U.S. human rights treaty obligations by that agency, or has provided any formal response to such a complaint.

While such complaints are unlikely to have much direct effect, the process created in response to our complaint and our follow-up FOIA and Privacy Act requests provides, for the first time, a mechanism for documenting the fact that such complaints have been made.

Executive Order 13107 requires each cabinet-level federal department to designate a single point of contact for complaints of human rights violations, and to respond to such complaints.

Having gotten the DHS to implement these provisions of Executive Order 13107, we’re still trying to get the issues we’ve raised considered by the Interagency Working Group on Human Rights Treaties.

We’re also continuing to pursue our human rights complaint and follow-up FOIA request to the Department of State. When last we heard from the Department of State, they estimated that they would have a response to our FOIA request in April 2012.

If you want to make such a complaint yourself about the DHS or any DHS component, send it to:

Ms. Margo Schlanger
Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Building 410, Mail Stop #0190
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

If you can’t figure out who has been designated as the “single point of contact” for some other department, send it to the respective cabinet secretary. The magic words to use are:

This is a complaint of a violation of U.S. obligations under international human rights treaties, specifically [specify clause and treaty]. We request that you refer this complaint to the officer you have designated as the single contact officer for your department responsible for overall coordination of the implementation of Executive Order 13107 on implementation of human rights treaties, and that we be provided with a response to this complaint. We also request that the subject matter of this complaint be reported to the Interagency Working Group on Human Rights Treaties, and included in the annual review by the Interagency Working Group of matters as to which there have been non-trivial complaints or allegations of inconsistency with or breach of international human rights obligations.

If you don’t receive any answer, ¬†make a FOIA request like this one for what has happened to your complaint and who (if anyone) has been designated as responsible for such complaints to that department.

If you try this , please let us know how it goes, and what (if any) response you receive.

We’ve reported on this process in a series of articles in this blog over the years. For those who are interested, here’s a chronological set of links to our correspondence with the DHS and Dept. of State:

Department of Homeland Security:

Department of State:

4 thoughts on “DHS responds to our complaints of human rights treaty violations

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