GENEVA — For the first time in nine years, the United Nations Human Rights Committee this week reviewed U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The American Civil Liberties Union was joined by more than 140 representatives from dozens of civil society organizations to brief the U.N. experts body and urged them to hold the U.S. government accountable for policies and practices that violate the treaty.
The United States is obligated to abide by the ICCPR, which is one of only three key international human rights treaties the country has ratified. Guided by input from participating civil society organizations, U.N. committee members questioned U.S. federal, state, and local government officials on a myriad of human rights issues including Indigenous rights, voting rights, freedom of expression, reproductive rights, criminal legal reform, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ rights, and more.
“The U.S. delegation decided to stick to scripted, general, and often meaningless responses — no matter how many times the Committee asked and pleaded for concrete responses on the well-documented treaty violations, some spanning over decades. At times it seemed that AI generated responses would have been more qualitative,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “The Biden administration missed yet another opportunity to use this U.N. human rights review to announce new commitments to adopt concrete measures to address the large-scale rights violations and harm to millions of people in the U.S. and under its jurisdiction and those impacted globally by its actions and policies.”
“We call on the Committee to hold the U.S. accountable and fully address the continued violations from lack of decolonization and protection of Indigenous sacred sites, to the lack of national standards on the use of force, moratorium on the federal death penalty and continued discrimination and abuse against vulnerable communities including immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, LGBTQ people, incarcerated people, and other marginalized communities,” Dakwar continued.
“The First Amendment protects religious equality for all; people of every religion, not just the majority faith, have the right to hold and to exercise their religious beliefs,” said Stephanie Amiotte, legal director for the ACLU of South Dakota, who spoke to the committee on the desecration and exploitation of the Black Hills sacred Indigenous sites. “In the context of Indigenous Peoples and sacred landscapes, there can be no exercise of religious freedom if the foundation for the practice of one’s belief system has been forever decimated. For Indigenous Peoples, whose belief systems and spirituality are intimately tied to the land to which they belong, exercise of religion is intimately tied to the protection of sacred landscapes.”
According to Fermín Arraiza Navas from ACLU of Puerto Rico, “No matter what misleading information drove the U.N. to exclude Puerto Rico, Guam, Alaska, Hawaii, and Indigenous Peoples from the United Nations Charter, their discussion must be raised before the General Assembly, and an expedited process of decolonization, demilitarization, and transfer of sovereign powers to the peoples concern, without delay, must be initiated. We welcome the committee’s questioning related to the violations of self-determination rights in the context of Puerto Rico, the first time the issue has been raised by U.N. human rights treaty bodies. But the lack of reports to the U.N. General Assembly is a violation of international law that must be redressed. Administrative powers have international obligations. The U.S. has been in breach of its fiduciary duties for decades. It is unacceptable.”
The ACLU and partner organizations submitted reports to the committee last month ahead of the review, including on topics such as colonialism in U.S. territories, criminal law reform, separation of families at the border and under the child welfare system, the desecration of sacred Indigenous sites, and the need to establish a National Human Rights Institution in the United States.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on Nov. 3. A video recording of the U.N. review can be accessed at the following links: