Oct 22 2012

US Department of Transportation ignores human rights

As we’ve noted many times before, the right to travel is spelled out more explicitly and in more detail in international human rights treaties, particularly Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, than in the U.S. Constitution (although it’s also implicit in several of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment).

As we’ve also noted, each Cabinet-level head of an executive department was ordered by the President in 1998 (through an Executive Order that remains in force) to designate a “single contact officer” responsible for ensuring that the department carries out its functions (including rulemaking and other regulatory activities) in such a manner as to fully respect and comply with human rights treaties including the ICCPR, and to insure that complaints of human rights violations by the Department are responded to and reviewed.

It should be obvious that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has a key role in protecting the right to freedom of movement as guaranteed by Article 12 of the ICCPR.  And the Secretary of Transportation is expressly required by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (49 USC 40101) to consider “the public right of freedom of transit through the navigable airspace” in issuing any DOT regulations.

Having found no indication that the DOT has ever designated a point of contact for human rights complaints, responded to any such complaints, or considered the right to freedom of travel in any rulemaking, we made a request under the Freedom Of Information Act for any records of DOT activities related to the implementation of human rights, consideration of human rights in rulemaking, or handling of human rights complaints.

We wouldn’t have been surprised if our FOIA request to the DOT had been ignored.  The DHS took more than five years to respond (improperly) to our complaints of violations of the right to travel, and after a year and a half the Department of State still hasn’t responded to our complaints of human rights treaty violations or our FOIA request for information about them.

To its credit, the Department of Transportation responded promptly to our FOIA request.

To DOT’s discredit, its response was that more than 30 years after being ordered by statute, and 20 years after being ordered by the President, to consider the right to freedom of travel in all its rulemaking activities, the DOT has no record of ever having done anything to carry out these explicit statutory and Presidential directives and obligations:

  • DOT has no record of ever having designated a point of contact for human rights complaints or implementation of human rights treaty obligations.
  • DOT has no record of any of the complaints of human rights violations it has received, what issues they raised, which provisions of which treaties they alleged had been violated, what if anything was done with them, or whether they were responded to.
  • DOT has never adopted any policies or procedures or issued any guidance to DOT components for the consideration of the right to travel, or any other human rights, in DOT rulemaking.
  • DOT has no record of any discussion of whether to carry out any of these responsibilities.
Oct 18 2012

US citizen banished by no-fly order: Is it because he stood up for his rights?

In another depressingly familiar episode in an ongoing saga of de facto banishment of US citizens from their own country, New York City native Samir Suljovic has been trapped in immigration limbo in Frankfurt since October 1st, following a visit to some of his relatives in Montenegro, because of a no-fly order from the DHS forbidding any airline to allow him to board a flight home to the USA.

What’s noteworthy in Mr. Suljovic’s case — other than the persistence of the DHS in these flagrant violations of the right of US citizens to return to their home country — is that he appears to be the same person who got some publicity two years ago when he sued a New York hotel for refusing to hire him unless he shaved off his beard, which he argued was an expression of his religious belief as a Muslim.

Based on what was said in the press, Mr. Suljovic would appear to have had a good case against the hotel. There’s plenty of case law about discrimination against people with religiously-required beards, mainly involving Sikhs and orthodox Jews, and his arguments were far from novel or extreme.

But in other cases, notably that of Julia Shearson, there are indications that DHS designations of “suspected terrorists” have been based on press reports of civil rights activism by Muslims.

The secrecy of the administrative “no-fly” decision-making process leaves us to wonder whether Mr. Suljovic, like Ms. Shearson, was singled out by the DHS for restriction of his right to travel because he stood up, publicly, for his rights as a Muslim.

If no-fly injunctions were issued, as they should be, by judges, following adversary fact-finding proceedings in which the burden of proof is on those who advocate restrictions on the right to travel, we wouldn’t have to wonder what (if any) evidence they were based on, or whether they were being used for invidious discrimination against particular religions or political activists.

Oct 17 2012

Cuba makes it easier to leave the country, while the US makes it harder

We’re pleased that Cuba has promulgated rules, effective January 13, 2013, which will eliminate the requirement for most (but not all) would-be emigrants to obtain the government’s permission to leave the country, and to make the issuance of a passport a matter of right for most Cuban citizens.

At the same time, the US has ordered airline common carriers not to allow any would-be passenger to board any international flight departing from the US without individualized prior permission from the government. Any attempt to leave the US, even by land, without a passport, has been criminalized, without any recognition of passport issuance as a right. The State Department, in its claimed “discretion” to deny passports to US citizens at whim, has increasingly been demanding that passport applicants answer impossibly detailed and irrelevant interrogatories to establish their identity and citizenship. At the same time, the State Department has tried to suppress knowledge of its own regulations which entitle passport applicants to establish their identity by the testimony of a witness rather than by paper credentials.

And the State Department continues to ignore our complaints that these practices violate US obligations under the same provisions of the same human rights treaties that the US has invoked against Cuba.

So our challenge to those in Congress who have criticized Cuba’s restrictions on freedom of movement is this:

By January 13, 2013, when these new rules take effect in Cuba, will you have introduced and enacted legislation to require the State Department to treat passport issuance as a matter of right for US citizens, and to repeal the prohibitions on departure from the US without government permission?

We encourage our readers and supporters to let your representatives know that you expect the US to do at least as much as Cuba’s government to effectuate the right to freedom of movement.

Oct 03 2012

Government Surveillance of Travelers

For those attending today’s discussion of Government Survelliance of Travellers and the DHS “Automated Targeting System” (ATS) at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, or those who can’t make it but are interested in the topic, here are the slides from the presentation by Edward Hasbrouck of the Identity Project (PapersPlease.org), and links to additional references:

Today’s event is open to the public, so please join us if you are in New York and free at mid-day.