UN Human Rights Council Reviews U.S. Human Rights Record

November 9, 2010

This past Friday, the United States appeared before the UN Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR is a process through which the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States are reviewed once every four years. I have come to Geneva to witness the US’s UPR first hand and to keep a spotlight on Amnesty International’s human rights concerns.

During the three-hour review, member states had the opportunity to make recommendations to the United States regarding how to improve its human rights record. Although non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are not allowed to speak during the actual review, they are encouraged to file “shadow reports” which outline their concerns with the US’s human rights record. These reports are compiled into a single report to the HRC.  In addition, member states frequently rely on the information in the NGO reports when deciding upon their recommendations.

The issues that Amnesty International highlighted in its UPR submission figured prominently among the recommendations. For example, the nearly unanimous recommendation of the member states was for a US moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view towards abolition.

Ratification of international instruments was also a key recommendation of the majority of states which recommended that the US ratify, in particular, the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Other recommendations spanned a range of concerns from Guantanamo closure to police brutality to migrant rights.

Following the US’s HRC appearance, the US government delegation, led by Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer, Department of State Legal Advisor Harold Koh and Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, held a “Town Hall” meeting with US NGO’s. At the Town Hall, I had the opportunity to follow up on CEDAW and asked the Administration point blank what steps they would take to ratify CEDAW this year. The Administration outlined their plans to work with the Senate towards ratification – for example, both the Department of State and the Department of Justice plan to testify at Senator Durbin’s upcoming hearing on CEDAW.

Amnesty International and our partners in the CEDAW coalition have been working closely with Senator Durbin to schedule such a hearing and we are now pleased to announce that a hearing has been scheduled for November 18.  Please help us encourage the Senate leadership to take action and ratify CEDAW now!

The results of the US’s UPR will be released today, with formal adoption by the HRC scheduled for Spring 2011.  The report will contain recommendations for improving the US’s human rights record.  We will share updates on this blog as they become available.

Amnesty will continue to work to make sure that the recommendations contained in the report are adopted, because one of the best ways to ensure the dignity of every human being is to shine a light on human rights in every corner of the globe – including our own.