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.