IMPLEMENTING THE ICCPR: Working for Civil and Political Rights
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.
USHRN and the ICCPR
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.
In March 2019, the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), will kick off the periodic review process for U.S. compliance with the ICCPR.
The U.S. has agreed to receive from the U.N. Human Rights Committee a List of Issues Prior to Reporting which will form the basis for the U.S. Government’s periodic report to the Committee. U.S. Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples and their representatives can submit information on relevant ICCPR issues, draft suggested questions and recommendations that will be considered by the Committee for inclusion within the List of Issues Prior to Reporting. The deadline for submissions is January 14, 2019.
Advanced law students in Northeastern Law School's US Human Rights Advocacy Seminar are available to work with organizations to conduct background research, draft language, and further develop submissions in consultation with organization staff. If you are interested in this resource, please contact Prof. Martha Davis, firstname.lastname@example.org
To follow-up on this international mechanisim, USHRN's ICCPR Taskforce meets on a monthly basis. For more information on the work of the ICCPR Taskforce, please contact: email@example.com.