Apr 23 2013

Department of Justice prosecutes human rights violators? No.

Twenty years ago, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13107, which directed each member of his Cabinet to designate a single official responsible for insuring that complaints of human rights violations by their Department are reviewed and responded to, and that there be an annual inter-Departmental review of all  subjects raised by such complaints (which of course would require keeping records of at least the subjects of such complaints).

So far as has been made public, Executive Order 13107 remains in force, and the U.S. State Department specifically cited it in a 2005 report to the United Nations  Human Rights Committee as evidence that the U.S. had “implemented” the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

But no points of contact for human rights complaints against Federal departments and agencies were ever made public, and our complaints of violations of the ICCPR were ignored by every federal official to whom we submitted them, even when we filed them in formal agency rulemaking dockets.

So we started filing requests under the Freedom Of Information act (FOIA) to find out what, if anything, had actually been done by various departments to carry out the orders the President had given in EO 13107.

As we have reported to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, it turns out that most of the departments we asked could find no record of what complaints of human rights violations they had received, or that they had ever done anything to implement EO 13107.

Although the deadlines for responses to our FOIA requests have long passed, we’ve been continuing to wait for belated responses from additional departments and agencies.

We recently received this letter in partial response to this request we made last August to the Department of Justice.  It’s a routine-looking statement that a “thorough” search of the Human Rights Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice “failed to locate any responsive records”.

Consider what that means, in light of what we asked for:

The Human Rights Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice — the specific section of the specific agency that is supposed to be responsible for prosecution of those human rights violations that actually constitute crimes under U.S. law — has no record of who, if anyone, is supposed to be the point of contact to whom complaints of such violations can be submitted.

It has no record of how many complaints it has received, against which agencies those complaints were directed, or what issues those complaints have raised.

It is supposed to be responsible for prosecuting violators, but it has no record of “any policies, procedures, communications, or other records pertaining to the handling … of complaints of alleged violations.”

We look forward to the forthcoming questioning of the U.S. government by the U.N. Human Rights Committee concerning this issue.