Nov 06 2015

Most Federal agencies still ignore human rights complaints

Despite a recent decision by the European Court of Justice based in part on the inability of US courts to enforce US obligations under human rights treaties to which the US is a party, and despite a direct order from the President, most Federal agencies have still done nothing to create even administrative channels or points of contact for handling complaints of human rights violations.

Last April, we joined a broad coalition of civil liberties and human rights organizations in a public letter to some of the Federal departments engaged in the most egregious human rights violations — torture, extrajudicial killings, mass surveillance, denial of freedom movement, etc. — calling on them to carry out the President’s longstanding orders to designate points of contact responsible for responding to complaints that they have violated human rights treaties.

Six months later, there’s been no response to our letter and no publicly-disclosed indication that any of the agencies and departments to which it was sent has taken any action to fulfill its duties under Executive Order 13107, which was issued by President Clinton in 1998 and has remained in effect ever since.

This week, we joined in a follow-up letter, pointing out the failure to act and the heightened importance of showing a US government commitment to human rights, including the right to privacy, if the US wants to persuade other countries and their citizens that personal information transferred to via the US will be adequately protected against unwarranted mass surveillance.

The real lesson, of course, is that neither US citizens nor foreigners can rely on merely administrative mechanisms¬† for the protection of fundamental rights. If direct orders from the President aren’t enough to get Federal department heads even to receive and log human rights complaints, what could be?

As the UN Human Rights Committee recommended last year at the conclusion of its latest review of US (non)implementation of its human rights treaty obligations, what’s really needed is for Congress to enact effectuating legislation for human rights treaties to grant US courts — not the agencies that are the subjects of the complaints — the jurisdiction to hear and rule on complaints of violations of rights guaranteed by those treaties that the US has ratified and promised to honor and implement.

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