Implementing the ICCPR: Working with Human Rights Mechanisms
The USHRN is working to promote full implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, or the Covenant) by educating the public about U.S. Government obligations under the treaty and by engaging our membership in the effective use of the treaty to promote human rights at home.
The U.S. government is being reviewed on its compliance with the ICCPR on October 17-18, 2013 and you have an opportunity to get involved. Click here to learn how to get involved in the ICCPR review.
What is the ICCPR?
The ICCPR is a human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16, 1966, and put into force on March 23, 1976. This important treaty outlines some broad and fundamental civil and political rights that we should all enjoy, including the rights to self-determination, to life, to found a family, to participate in the electoral process, and to due process and a fair trial. It also provides freedoms from torture, slavery, genocide, and freedoms of movement, speech, expression, conscience, and religion. In addition to many more rights and freedoms, it provides for equal protection and enjoyment of these rights by women, men, children, and minorities. The United States signed the Covenant on October 5, 1977, and ratified it on June 8, 1992. Based on the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the ICCPR has the status of federal law, and the United States is, therefore, obligated to adhere to this treaty.
The ICCPR, and its two Optional Protocols, is part of the International Bill of Human Rights, along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Note that the United States has not ratified these two Optional Protocols; the first Protocol establishes an individual complaints mechanism, and the second abolishes the death penalty.
How does the ICCPR Review Process Work?
The ICCPR is monitored by a United Nations' committee known as the Human Rights Committee, or the Committee for short. (Note that the Human Rights Committee is different from the Human Rights Council.) The Committee is composed of 18 independent members experienced in the areas of human rights covered under the ICCPR. Although nominated by their country, Committee members serve in their individual capacities, not as representatives of their countries. The Committee meets three (3) times per year to review periodic reports from countries that have ratified the ICCPR. In these meetings, governments must provide an accounting of how they are implementing human rights standards under the treaty. Governments must report initially one year after acceding to the Covenant and then whenever the Committee requests, which is usually every four (4) years. The Committee meets in Geneva and New York.
The review is a multi-stage process that begins with the country submitting its periodic report. Based on that report and input from social justice groups and other NGOs, the Committee comes up with a series of questions that the country must respond to in writing. These questions are known as the List of Issues, and it establishes the agenda for the upcoming country dialog. If social justice groups wish to influence the agenda, they must provide short written reports called "List of Issues Submissions" to the Committee before it comes up with the List.
In the next stage of the process, the country provides written replies to the List, which is then used as the basis to begin the dialog during the in-person review. For the dialog, the Committee solicits and incorporates "shadow reports" from groups working on the ground with people and communities directly impacted by human rights violations. After the dialog, the Committee issues its recommendations to the country; these are called Concluding Observations. Social justice groups' participation is essential here as well, as they begin or continue lobbying and advocacy efforts to get these and past recommendations implemented at home.
For a more detailed account of the review process, see our ICCPR Fact Sheet as well as the Centre for Civil and Political Rights' "Guidelines for NGOs." Both documents are also available in our Resources and Media section.
How Do I Get Involved in the U.S. ICCPR Review?
In preparation for the review of the U.S. on its compliance with the ICCPR, the USHRN ICCPR Taskforce is coordinating the submission of shadow reports to the UN Human Rights Committee. All social justice groups, especially those who submitted issues to the review in October, are invited to participate. In this effort, we are leveraging the review process to gain concrete human rights wins in our communities. The ICCPR Taskforce has developed a work plan to engage groups in the process. We are encouraging groups to work together to submit joint shadow reports. If you are interested in coordinating or contributing to a joint shadow report, please contact Yolande Tomlinson: email@example.com.
On December 30, 2011, the U.S. submitted its fourth periodic report. The Human Rights Committee met in Geneva in March 2013 and has released its official List of Issues. The US Human Rights Network has created a taskforce to assist groups in the different stages of the review process. The ICCPR Taskforce is an all-volunteer team of people well-versed in the issue areas covered by the ICCPR treaty and the ICCPR process. They are eager to assist groups, and have been working hard to provide all the resources needed to participate in the review process. These materials are also available in our Resources and Media section.
On December 28, 2012, the USHRN compiled and submitted 29 reports from 47 member and partner organizations to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The Submission provides annotated summaries of each report arranged by issue area, as well as a list of recommended questions for the Committee's ease of reference. Issues covered in the individual reports range from issues of Indigenous self-determination to violence against women to racial profiling to protection for non-citizens to voting rights. The document totals 27 pages, and is accompanied by the 29 individual reports submitted by our partner and member organizations.
The ICCPR Taskforce meets on a monthly basis. For more information on the work of the ICCPR Taskforce, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.