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America’s Human Rights Hot Buttons

January 20, 2012|Deborah Brown, Leo Nevas Human Rights Fellow
The United States recently submitted the fourth U.S. periodic report on its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a core international human rights treaty, to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.


The fourth report has been both welcomed and scrutinized by American human rights advocates, a number of whom were consulted in the report’s drafting. For example, some groups commended the improvement in how the report treated LGBT issues, while others were critical that it included no references to the Occupy movements (e.g. Occupy Wall St.). Other controversial issues addressed in the report include capital punishment, detention policies, and the rights of indigenous peoples. The submission demonstrates the U.S.’s commitment to be willing to undergo public, as well as expert, scrutiny. The administration has already consulted with American civil society groups through the U.S. Human Rights Network on the report.

The report, which is a requirement for all States Parties to the ICCPR, is a document of record that can play an important role in informing the international community and American citizens of the U.S.’s human rights record.  It will also serve as the basis for formal submissions of critiques and questions from interested American organizations and experts to the Committee members. The U.S. has had substantial differences with the Committee over interpretation of substantive rights obligations in the past; however, it has made extra efforts in the past few years to meet its procedural obligations -- one of which is timely submission of periodic reports.   


Next Steps

Now that the report is submitted, the Committee will appoint a taskforce comprised of four or five of its members who will review the submission, draft a list of issues/questions for the U.S. government to answer, and contact the U.S. government to schedule a review in the form of an interactive dialogue at the Committee. The list of issues will serve as the basis for the review. Since the Committee only meets three times each year—in July and October in Geneva, and in March in New York—the review is unlikely to be scheduled in 2012.  If, for example, the list of issues is adopted in July 2012 in Geneva, the review itself will most likely take place in March 2013 in New York.


How UNA Members Get Involved 

In addition to interfacing with the administration, civil society groups can make contributions to the Committee itself for the list of issues. Once a taskforce is assigned to the U.S. report, formalities regarding civil society submissions will be made public. Typically, information should be sent in electronic or hard copy, approximately two months before the task force’s meeting formalizing the list to be used by Committee while it drafts the list of questions. UNA-USA will alert members when this process begins.

 

What are the ICCPR and the Human Rights Committee?

The ICCPR, which the U.S. ratified in 1992, safeguards fundamental human freedoms, such as including the right to life, freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly, and electoral rights, among others. The Human Rights Committee, a body composed of independent experts, monitors the implementation of the ICCPR by States Parties. States Parties are obliged to submit the initial report one year after acceding to the Covenant and must regularly submit updated reports at the Committee’s request (usually every four years). The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State Party in the form of "concluding observations.”


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