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Monday, July 7, 2014

A Busy Year for the United States before International Human Rights Mechanisms

UNHRC-OHCHR_CI.jpgIn the upcoming months, the human rights record of the United States will come under scrutiny by several U.N. monitoring bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee against Torture, and the Human Rights Council. These mechanisms provide a consolidated period of opportunity for advocacy on a range of human rights issues occurring in the U.S. or being carried out by U.S. officials abroad.

Both of the previously mentioned Committees are made up of independent experts to monitor State parties' implementation of the particular international human rights treaty related to their respective field of knowledge. More specifically, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and the Committee against Torture monitors activity relating to Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Human Rights Council, different in nature from the Committees, is an inter-governmental body made up of 47 states (elected by the UN General Assembly) that together lead the Universal Periodic Review mechanism through which the human rights situation in all 193 UN Member States is assessed.

The Human Rights Program is engaging with these mechanisms by coordinating and contributing to the shadow reporting process and other forms of advocacy, particularly in the context of CAT. Specifically, the HRP's Claire Leslie Johnson is acting as the co-chair for the US Human Rights Network's CAT Task Force. She is joined in this work by Antonio Ginatta, Director of Advocacy for US Programs at Human Rights Watch.

The purpose of the CAT Task Force is to coordinate civil society participation in advocacy as it relates to CAT, including drafting and presenting shadow reports before the Committee with supplemental information about torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in the U.S. and abroad. Human rights abuses of this nature occur regularly in the context of the national security, immigration detention and deportation, and criminal justice systems and institutions. The Task Force will also help coordinate advocacy based on the Committee's recommendations to the U.S. government following the review, which is scheduled for November, 2014.

The CERD (August 13-14, 2014), CAT, and UPR (April/May, 2015) sessions follow close on the heels of the recent review of the U.S. record with regards to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) before the Human Rights Committee, which occurred this past March. The timing of the review of the U.S. record by each of these four mechanisms in unusually close. On the one hand the unique timing provides an opportunity for a consolidated period of dialogue on the promotion and protection of human rights by the U.S. government. On the other hand, it presents a challenge to the ability of civil society organizations with limited capacity to participate fully, since they have to keep track of and respond to multiple mechanisms simultaneously.

The CAT Task Force is made up of 14 members representing diverse organizations, communities, and human rights issues across the U.S. The Task Force meets several times a month via conference call to envision, plan, and coordinate civil society in advance of the November session. The Task Force is interested in involving a broad array of organizations and individuals in CAT advocacy, and in particular aims to draw new people into the process. By doing so the Task Force hopes to be able to present a broader and more comprehensive array of concerns to the Committee next fall.
The Task Force's main focuses currently are on publicizing the opportunity to submit shadow reports to the Committee and explaining the process for doing so. Civil society "shadow reports" are meant to fill in any gaps and elaborate on the U.S report to the Committee, which was submitted last December, 2013. Shadow reports are due to the Committee by October 17th or by mid-September to the US Human Rights Network for anyone who would like to submit their report as a part of the Network's compilation.

Additional Resources:
"Guide to International Human Rights Mechanisms," The Advocates for Human Rights
"10 Steps to Writing a Shadow Report," The Advocates for Human Rights & the US Human Rights Network
"How to Get Involved in the US CAT Review," US Human Rights Network
"How to Get Involved in the US ICERD Review," US Human Rights Network
"2014/2015 USHRN UN Human Rights Mechanisms Calendar", US Human Rights Network

-Written by Salma Taleb and Claire Leslie Johnson