It’s been almost fourteen years since President Clinton, in an Executive Order that remains in force, directed each Cabinet-level executive department to designate a single contact officer responsible for insuring that all complaints to that department of violations of human rights treaties are investigated and responded to.
That Presidential order, however, has never been carried out, and remains widely ignored.
In the latest example, the Department of Justice has responded (belatedly, as usual) to our request under the Freedom of Information Act, saying that they can find no record that any Attorney General has ever designated anyone responsible for carrying out this Executive Order or responding to complaints of human rights violations; no policies or instructions for dealing with such complaints; and no records of such complaints, what issues they have raised, or what has been done with them.
Given that the Department of Justice might have been expected to be responsible for investigating various sorts of human rights violations that would also constitute crimes, this failure by the DOJ to do anything about human rights complaints has serious implications for the entirety of the US government.
We got the same answer earlier from the Department of Transportation, which is supposed to be responsible for ensuring that passenger common carriers act as, well, common carriers, and respect the “public right of freedom of transit” guaranteed by federal law as well as international treaties.
Only the DHS has told us they actually designated someone responsible for responding to human rights complaints. But it took the DHS almost five years to actually respond to our complaints, and when they did, they improperly suggested that US law could override international treaties.
We’re still trying to get an answer from the Department of State about its handling of human rights complaints. And we’ll be bringing these issues to the attention of the UN Human Rights Committee next year, when it reviews US compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.