March 2, 2016
Dear Deputy Assistant Secretary Busby:
As the U.S. civil society participants that attended the February 11, 2016 meeting on follow-up to the Second Cycle of the U.S. UPR, we write to thank you for holding this small meeting where we could have direct discussion and exchange on ways the Administration might most effectively improve and institutionalize the human rights review and implementation process. We appreciate the Administration’s engagement with civil society throughout the course of these U.N. reviews, and its efforts to foster greater awareness of the U.S.’ human rights commitments and obligations. The purpose of this letter is to memorialize the reflections and recommendations we offered during the February 11th meeting.
The U.S. has made a number of important strides during its first two UPR review cycles. In particular, the Administration’s creation of substance-specific working groups at the federal level is a very positive step (though we remain dissatisfied that Indigenous Peoples is combined with Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Environment in Working Group 3). We are pleased to learn that the working groups will be tasked with not only implementing the UPR recommendations, but the treaty body Concluding Observations, and, possibly, the recommendations of U.N. special procedures. Further, we appreciate that the Administration has developed and made publically available a calendar of civil society consultations with each of the working groups.
We are concerned, however, that the Administration’s positive steps may not lead to long-term and robust implementation, without additional action. To maximize the impact of current efforts to strengthen human rights monitoring, implementation, and reporting, we offer the suggestions below.
Working Group Structure and Functions
While we applaud the creation of substance-specific working groups, the lack of information on the working groups makes it difficult to assess how they will function moving forward. Accordingly, we suggest that each working group develop and publically share a written mandate, along with specific plans and timelines for implementation. This will improve transparency and clarify how each working group will support human rights implementation at the federal, state, and local level.
In addition, we suggest that each working group prepare an annual year-end summary of activities and accomplishments. These summaries should be made available to civil society and state and local officials. In addition to fostering accountability, this can help deepen engagement within the domestic agencies and streamline drafting of a mid-term UPR report (due January 2018), which we are encouraged to learn that the Administration is considering submitting to the Human Rights Council. We propose that the first summaries be completed before the end of this Administration, in order to ensure that future administrations can build on the valuable work that has already been done.
The Administration can take further steps to ensure that the working groups are accessible and effective. First, all agencies that are a part of each working group should be publicly listed (not just the lead agencies), and each agency should designate a contact person. Information on the working groups should be publicized beyond the humanrights.gov website. Each agency website should identify the working group(s) to which it belongs, and each agency should publicize relevant international human rights recommendations. There are positive examples on which to build. For example, the DOJ COPS newsletter highlights the steps the federal government has taken on criminalization of homelessness, framed as part of UPR implementation. The EPA Environmental Justice in Action Blog also has postings on international human rights engagement.
In addition, the State Department should work in concert with the substantive working groups to widely disseminate to state and local agencies and officials the 2015 UPR recommendations and recommendations from the treaty body follow-up reviews. Building on the State Department’s dissemination of the treaty bodies’ 2014 Concluding Observations, this would foster greater awareness of the United States’ human rights commitments and obligations, and provide a starting point for conversations on implementation.
Working Group Consultations
Civil society consultations offer an important opportunity for constructive engagement. To ensure consultations are productive, the State Department and relevant agencies should confirm the date of each consultation at least two months prior to the consultation, and should share the timing, format, and invited government representatives with civil society at least one month in advance of the meeting date. Further, we suggest consulting with civil society regarding the format. These steps will help foster robust participation by civil society, including those directly impacted by human rights violations, and maximize preparation and effectiveness.
Long-Term Infrastructure and Institutionalization
We are disappointed to learn that this Administration does not believe a new executive order is needed to establish an effective Interagency Working Group on Human Rights Implementation at the highest level with a mandate to oversee and coordinate domestic implementation of U.S. human rights obligations domestically. Nevertheless, we hope that, short of an executive order, the Administration will take steps to improve and ensure domestic implementation of international human rights treaties and recommendations. We urge the Administration to issue a guidance or memorandum on treaty implementation at the federal agency level. Such implementation should be led in part by the Domestic Policy Council, and it should directly involve state and local governments.
Furthermore, while the U.S. receives consistent recommendations from civil society, treaty bodies, and the UPR to improve its domestic human rights infrastructure, the U.S. continues to lack a national human rights institution or other national mechanism to coordinate and monitor human rights implementation. As a first step, the Administration could undertake an assessment of how its current human rights monitoring and implementation mechanisms align with the Paris Principles, and what actions would be needed for the U.S. to create a national human rights monitoring and implementation body, such as an NHRI.
We hope you will consider our recommendations, which we believe would bring substantial and lasting benefit to U.S. efforts to advance human rights at home, institutionalize the progress made to date, and offer a positive example for other countries. We look forward to working together to support your efforts towards comprehensive and robust domestic human rights implementation.
Rebecca Landy, US Human Rights Network (USHRN)
Joshua Cooper, Four Freedoms Forum
Jamil Dakwar, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
Mary Gerisch, Vermont Workers’ Center
JoAnn Kamuf Ward, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute (HRI)
Eric Tars, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP)
June Zeitlin, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Tom Malinowski - Assistant Secretary of State, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State
Sofija Korac – Foreign Affairs Officer, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, US Department of State
Karen Stevens – Senior Counsel, US Department of Justice
Amanda Wall – Attorney Adviser, Office of the Legal Adviser for Human Rights and Refugees, US Department of State
Jesse Tampio – Attorney Adviser, Office of the Legal Adviser for Human Rights and Refugees, US Department of State
Danny Gogal – Office of Environmental Justice, Environmental Protection Agency
Eric Wilson - International Affairs Coordinator, Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior
Erik Steinecker – Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity, Region X, US Department of Housing and Urban Development