Saturday, November 6, 2010

US Human Rights Record Examined by the UN

International Indian Treaty Council


Today, November 5th 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland examined the United States’ compliance with its international human rights obligations. The Council, composed of 53 member States (Countries), conducts human rights reviews of all 192 UN member States in a four year cycle. Today the US had its turn.

In a process called Universal Periodic Review (UPR), members of the Council questioned a delegation of over 30 US Officials delegation led by Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State. In addition to representatives from the US Department of State, other US agencies such as Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Department of Education also participated.

The United States was given one hour to present its report and respond to questions. HRC and observer States were given two minutes each to ask questions and make recommendations. 85 States signed up to speak, but time ran out and only 56 were able to take the floor.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, was prominent in the questioning and recommendations by a number of States. The United States was among only four States that voted against it, and in the questioning, States as diverse as Lybia, Nicaragua, Iran, Australia, Finland and South Africa recommended that the Declaration be endorsed by the United States. Finland also called upon the United States to formulate plans, with Indigenous Peoples, for its implementation.

New Zealand, one of the four States that originally voted against the Declaration, changed its negative vote to an endorsement this year. New Zealand urged the US to continue its forward movement on the review of the UN Declaration. Australia, which voted “no” but has since also endorsed the Declaration, encouraged the US to complete its review. Only Canada and the United States remain officially in opposition to the Declaration.

South Africa recommended that the US use the Declaration as a guide for its’ relationship with Indigenous Peoples in the United States. The Holy See, an observer without vote in the United Nations, representing the Vatican, also commented favorably on the US review of the Declaration.

Larry Echohawk, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Interior, responded to these questions and recommendations by pointing out that the United States is in the process of reviewing its vote and is conducting consultations with recognized Indian Tribes and other stakeholders and organizations.

In an apparent reference to the US Supreme Court’s Plenary Powers Doctrine established in 1836 and still the law in the United States, Cyprus called upon the United States to afford Indigenous Peoples in the United States equality before the law. In 2006 the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that the “US should review this policy … as regards the extinguishment of aboriginal rights on the basis of the plenary power of Congress”. Cyprus also called upon the US to implement the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which also commented on violations of the rights of the Indigenous Peoples in the United States in its 2008 review. Cyprus also recommended that there be full consultations with Indigenous Peoples on matters that affect them and noted President Obama’s new policy on consultations with US Tribes.

Cuba, commenting on political prisoners in the US and called for the release of Leonard Peltier, convicted with false and perjured testimony and still in prison after 36 years of incarceration.

Other issues that received attention were racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims as well as Blacks and Hispanics, by US police, law enforcement and the Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE); anti immigrant legislation such as Arizona’s new immigration law; police violence against minorities; the lack of a national institution in the United States to promote observance of international human rights; and the death penalty which is still practiced in the US but is prohibited by most UN member States.

Many States recommended that the US ratify core Human Rights Conventions such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Right (ICESC), the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention for the Protection of Migrant Workers and their families (CPM) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The US and Somalia are the only two UN member States which have not ratified the CRC.

Many of the US-based Human Rights organizations which were in Geneva to observe the session expressed disappointment about the lack of true introspection by the US of its own human rights record. IITC General Counsel Alberto Saldamando attended the UPR Session in Geneva as a member of IITC’s delegation. He observed that “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s much repeated mantra of making the US a model for human rights compliance was unfortunately not accompanied by very much understanding of the US’ actual human rights obligations, including their obligation under Nation-to-Nation Treaties with Indigenous Nations and the previous recommendations of other UN Human Rights bodies. The US delegation reflected their long-standing attitude that US law and practice already conform to international human rights norms. They didn’t acknowledge, for example, that the CERD and the Inter American Human Rights Commission have both found that the US violated the Western Shoshone’s right to property and equality before the law by the taking of Shoshone lands. Human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples, including Treaty violations, destruction of sacred sites and a range of others must be fully acknowledged and real solutions implemented by the US.”

A draft report and recommendations will be presented to the United States on Tuesday, November 9th, and the full report and recommendations will be adopted at the Human Rights Council next regular session in March of 2011.

For more information please contact the IITC at (415) 641-4482, or (907) 745-4482,


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