- The United Nations Human Rights Committee has released
its final report after a series of hearings in Geneva last week, which
RAW STORY has learned amounts to a moral indictment of US treaty violations,
as well as what some attendees and delegates described as US hubris, willful
disregard for international and domestic law, and contempt for the Committee
- Understanding the Hearings
- At the hearings, signatory nations to the Conventions
against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment
(CAT) and the 1992 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR)?one of two treaties that make up what is commonly referred to as
the International Bill of Rights-- presented reports on their implementation
of the agreed-upon standards of the treaties. The Committee holds hearings
every four years to review the compliance status of ICCPR signatory member
- As part of that review, the official State report is
presented along with what is called a ?shadow report,? a rebuttal from
non-government organizations (NGO), advocacy groups, and citizen representatives.
The US ?shadow report? was prepared by The Coalition for Human Rights at
Home, a coalition of 142 not-for-profit groups.
- The shadow report delivered -- a whopping 456 pages --
documents domestic human rights abuses generally go unreported. The report
meticulously details over 100 instances of human rights violations, as
a response to the official report by the US. The US for its part was seven
years late in delivering any sort of report, something it is obligated
to do as a signatory of the ICCPR.
- Cat and Mouse
- The Geneva hearings were only the latest back and forth
between the Committee and the US, following a series of allegations and
cases that have already been well discussed, debated, and reviewed. The
report summarizes just briefly what has been an ongoing attempt by the
Committee to compel the US to participate, as it is obligated to do by
both the ICCPR and CAT, and to explain its reasons for not participating
- The US has thus far offered very little in the support
of a self-proclaimed stellar human rights record. Rather, much of what
is presented at the hearings, in written responses to Committee questions,
and in press statements, shows a nation that on one hand touts international
treaties as necessary, imposing them on other nations, and at the same
time reminds the Committee repeatedly of its own sovereignty, despite being
a full fledged signatory to both the ICCPR and CAT treaties.
- The interplay between the Committee and the US is circular
at best, working essentially like a cat and mouse game. Delegates have
indicated to HYPERLINK "http://rawstory.com"RAW STORY that written
requests for information from the committee are often responded to by US
indications that it has already answered the questions. While the US typically,
they say, specifies when and where they answered previously, they do not
- A particularly clear example of this can be seen in the
US answer question 13 in one written response to the Committee prior to
the hearings. The question read as follows:
- The State Party, including through the National Security
Agency (NSA), reportedly has monitored and still monitors phone, email,
and fax communications of individuals both within and outside the U.S.,
without any judicial oversight. Please comment and explain how such practices
comply with article 17 of the Covenant.
- Article 17 of the ICPPR reads thusly:
- No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference
with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks
on his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of
the law against such interference or attacks.
- The US contends that it is compliant, and goes on to
cite various claims: Article 17 of the Covenant provides, in relevant part,
that ?[n]o one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference
with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks
on his honor and reputation.? For reasons described in this response, the
Terrorist Surveillance Program is consistent with this article.
- The US goes on to cite judicial overview and careful
safeguards in place to ensure it only monitors suspected terrorists, as
well as example rulings that are only tangentially connected. The US argument
fails to address the basic issue: that the FISA court was completely bypassed.
- The Geneva hearings on this question went much the same
way, with the US pointing to the previous written response as their answer,
as well as addendums added after the hearings.
- Jamil Dakwar, a staff attorney with the Human Rights
Program ? National Legal Department of the HYPERLINK "http://www.aclu.org"American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who was present at the hearings as part of
the NGO delegation, said he could only describe the interplay ?as a dialogue
- The Report
- The Human Rights Committee?s final report supports the
NGO findings, presenting issues of concern and indicating how those issues
violate ICCPR and CAT. The report also prescribes remedies by which the
United States can become compliant with treaty obligations, something that
many human rights advocates are not optimistic about.
- "The US ratified only three human rights treaties
out of seven major human rights treaties. In fact, the US and Somalia are
the only two countries in the world that have not ratified the Convention
on the Rights of the Child--and Somalia does not have a functional government!"
- "Judging from the lack of domestic application of
human rights law, and from the gap between human rights law and US law
in many areas, we can certainly say that the US government had never taken
its human rights treaty obligations seriously," he added.
- Setting the tone for the relationship between a frustrated
Committee and a seemingly discourteous and defiant super power, the Committee's
report delivers an opening salvo, stating on page 1:
- "The Committee regrets that the State party has
not integrated into its reports information on the implementation of the
Covenant in respect of individuals under its jurisdiction and outside its
territory. The Committee notes however that the State party has provided
additional material ?out of courtesy?. The Committee further regrets that
the State party, invoking grounds of non-applicability of the Covenant
or intelligence operations, refused to address certain serious allegations
of violations of the rights protected under the Covenant."
- The Report covers issues that quite simply read like
the US Bill of Rights - citing freedom of speech, freedom of the press,
freedom of religion, the right to life, and the right to due process -
and focuses on issues extending well into the rest of the US Constitution,
including voting rights and so forth.
- For example, the Human Rights Committee report cites
the Patriot Act as a major concern several times, including:
- "The Committee, while noting some positive amendments
introduced in 2006, notes that section 213 of the Patriot Act, expanding
the possibility of delayed notification of home and office searches; section
215 regarding access to individuals' personal records and belongings; and
section 505, relating to the issuance of national security letters, still
raise issues of concern in relation to article 17 of the Covenant. In particular,
the Committee is concerned about the restricted possibilities for the affected
persons to be informed about such measures and for them and recipients
to effectively challenge them. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned
that the State Party, including through the National Security Agency (NSA),
has monitored and still monitors phone, email, and fax communications of
individuals both within and outside the U.S., without any judicial or other
independent oversight. (articles 2(3) and 17). (page 6, point 21).
- The report also expresses concern about the clear correlation
between race and poverty in America:
- "The Committee is concerned by reports that some
50% of homeless people are African American although they constitute only
12% of the U.S. population. (articles 2 and 26).? (page 7, point 22.).
- The report goes on to express concern about the large
number of undocumented workers within US borders-- and what appears to
be a military solution to the issue. It also emphasizes, both here and
repeatedly in other sections, that the US has not provided adequate information:
- "The Committee regrets that it has not received
sufficient information on the measures the State party envisages adopting
in relation to the reportedly nine million undocumented migrants now in
the United States of America. While noting the information provided by
the delegation that National Guard troops will not engage in direct law
enforcement duties in the apprehension or detention of aliens, the Committee
remains concern about the increased level of militarization on the southwest
border with Mexico. (articles 12 and 26).? (page 8, point 27).
- The Committee's questions, hearings, and the report all
indicate that the international community is well aware of US law, Constitutional
issues, and domestic policies that are in clear violation of the ICCPR,
CAT, and State law.
- During the media roundtable held on July 17, HYPERLINK
touted the human rights record of the US with great vigor.
- "Indeed, few countries in the world could claim
greater protections of, for example, speech, press, association or religion
than the United States. The United States also historically promotes these
same values around the world and continues to do so as part of the President's
Freedom Agenda," Waxman said.
- Facts provided by the US NGO delegation, which numbers
65 citizen delegates, the largest ever NGO delegation for any State do
not support the position of Waxman and the official US delegation.
- Additionally, many of the policies criticized in the
report bypass legislative attempts to correct. President Bush has bypassed
corrective measures by issuing more than 700 signing statements.
- Political Cost
- The official state delegation from the US was composed
largely of members of the State Department, and was headed by Matthew Waxman,
Principal Deputy Director of the Policy Planning Staff at the Department
- In his opening address, http://geneva.usmission.gov/Press2006/0718iccprResponse.html
Waxman cited the attacks of September 11, 2001, setting the tone for subsequent
answers to questions the committee raised with regard to domestic detainment
and interrogation of terrorist suspects, and programs that have been implemented
- "First, the United States is engaged in a real,
not rhetorical, armed conflict with al Qaeda and its affiliates and supporters,
as noted in multiple declaration by al Qaeda in the 1990s and as reflected
in al Qaeda's heinous attack on September 11, 2001, an attack that killed
more than 3000 innocent civilians. It is important to clarify the distinction
we draw between the struggle in which all countries are engaged in a 'global
war on terrorism' and the legal meaning of our nation?s armed conflict
with al Qaeda, its affiliates and supporters."
- Waxman, who previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary
of Defense for Detainee Affairs, and Director of Security & Justice
Affairs in the Washington office of the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority,
was joined by other key State Department officials and legal experts as
part of the US delegation.
- When asked why the US continues to be a signatory to
international human rights treaties if it has no intention of taking seriously
its obligations under those treaties, Lisa Crooms, Constitutional and international
law professor at the Howard University School of Law, opined that the US
wishes to 'maintain some semblance of being a human rights protector.'
- "The political cost of opting out would be too great.
It is easier to claim to be bound and not really be bound," she added.