US report on human rights ignores complaints
On December 30th, 2011, the US government filed its latest report (and appendices; also here in PDF format) to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) concerning US implementation of, and compliance with, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The ICCPR is one of the most important human rights treaties to which the US is a party. By the terms of the ICCPR, each party to the treaty, including the US, is required to report to the UNHCR, every five years, on its implementation of, and compliance with, its obligations under the treaty. Following each such self-report by a national government, the UNHCR has the opportunity to pose questions both in writing and during a face-to-face hearing concerning the report and other issues of treaty compliance by that government. The UNHCR also meets with, and receives “shadow” reports (such as these regarding the previous US report) from, non-governmental organizations with concerns about the government’s self-reporting or other treaty compliance issues concerning that country.
Since the US doesn’t recognize the jurisdiction of most other international human rights tribunals, the UNHCR is one of the only independent bodies empowered to cross-examine the US government and demand answers to questions about its actions and its compliance with international law.
The fourth US report concerning the ICCPR filed in December 2011 was due a year earlier, in 2010. The UNHCR will schedule its review and response to the US report for one of its future sessions in Geneva or New York, perhaps in late 2012 or sometime in 2013.
What’s most notable about the latest US report is how much goes unmentioned, even with respect to topics raised in the previous US report. There’s no substantial discussion, for example, of the comprehensive system of control and surveillance of travelers that has been set up by the DHS, or of whether it complies with the standards established by the UNHCR for government actions which restrict the right to freedom of movement guaranteed by Article 12 of the ICCPR. We’ll be raising that issue in detail, of course, in our shadow report to the UNHCR, as we have in our previous complaints to the DHS and the Department of State.
In its 2005 report to the UNHCR, the US mentioned (see paragraphs 452-453) Executive Order 13107, which requires each Cabinet-level Federal executive department to designate a “single contact officer” responsible fo ensuring, inter alia, that complaints of human rights violations are responded to, and which requires an annual interagency review of all subjects with respect to which there have been complaints of violations of human rights treaties.
Since 2006, we’ve been trying to (a) find out who those designated “single contact officers” are (we’ve only been able, through a FOIA request, to get the official designation of one of them), (b) get responses to our formal complaints to the DHS and Department of State about their policies and practices that violate the ICCPR (we received our first responses only in late 2011, five years after our initial complaints, and several of our complaints remain unacknowledged and unanswered after months or years), and (c) get the subjects of our complaints referred to the interagency working group on human rights and included in their annual reviews (to date, we’ve been unable to obtain any evidence that this has happened, or that there has ever been any such review at all, annual or otherwise).
Our complaints to the State Department were sent in April 2011 to the same two officials — Harold Koh and Michael Posner — who chaired a meeting about the US report we were invited to this week with the government officials who prepared the US report and US human rights NGOs. Our complaints remain unacknowledged and unanswered, and a response to our FOIA request for what has happened to them and who, if anyone, the State Department has designated as its “single contact officer” for such complaints is more than four months overdue. Questions at the US government’s meeting this week with NGOs were cut off for lack of time before we were able to ask when, if ever, they would respond to our complaints or FOIA request, whether any records are kept of human rights complaints, and whether any annual review of the subjects of those complaints has been conducted.
Based on our experience, we are led to speculate that all mention of EO13107 was omitted from the latest US report to the UNHCR because Federal departments have failed to carry out that order from the US President — just as the US has failed to carry out its mandates under the treaty itself.
We look forward to seeing the UNHCR demand answers from the US government to these questions.
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