NEW YORK (IPS/GIN) – In the first ever UN-mandated self-assessment of the United States’ human rights record, the Barack Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to closing the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay and to fixing the country’s “broken immigration system.”
But the report also acknowledges the need for improvement in several key areas, including racial justice, women’s rights, LGBT rights and discrimination against Muslims and citizens of South Asian and Arab descent.
And civil liberties advocate groups say the report neglects to address other key areas where the U.S. has failed to meet its human rights obligations, including felon disfranchisement, inhumane prison conditions, racial disparities in the death penalty system and deaths and abuse in immigration detention.
These groups also note that the report defends the use of military commissions to try terrorism suspects. They say military commissions pose significant human and civil rights violations.
The report, delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva and released by the U.S. State Department, describes the “great strides” the U.S. has made toward ensuring equality of the law for all Americans. The report also acknowledges that work remains to be done.
The report was prepared following a series of consultative sessions between January and April involving federal agencies and civil society organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Human Rights First.
Its compilation is part of the “universal periodic review” (UPR) process in which the Human Rights Council probes every UN member-state’s human rights record once every four years.
The United States’ UPR is set for Nov. 5, when administration representatives will take part in a three-hour “interactive dialogue” with council members in Geneva, based on this report as well as others submitted by UN experts and civil society groups.
A “troika” of countries, chosen by lot, will then draw up a document of recommendations arising from the dialogue session, for the full council to “adopt” on Nov. 9.
The troika overseeing the U.S. UPR comprises France, Japan and Cameroon.
Cameroon is one of 18 council members from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a bloc which has drawn fire for an agenda at the council characterized by a strong anti-Israel bias and attempts to outlaw religious “defamation.”
The presence and conduct of countries with widely criticized human rights records was a key reason cited by the George W. Bush administration for shunning the council, but President Obama made engagement with the body a priority. The U.S. was elected to the council in May 2009.
The ACLU and another organization involved during the earlier consultations, Human Rights First, both welcomed the Aug. 27 release of the review–but with qualifications.
Jamil Dakwar, head of the ACLU’s civil rights program, told IPS, “While we welcome the Obama administration’s report and participation in this process and willingness to improve in certain areas, it is disappointing that the report neglected to address other significant problems that were raised in the consultations with civil society.”
He added, “It is time for the U.S. to match its human rights rhetoric with concrete domestic policies and actions and create a human rights culture and infrastructure that promotes American values of equality and justice for all.”
The ACLU said the report neglected some areas, including “inhumane prison conditions” and “racial disparities in the death penalty system.”
Tad Stahnke of Human Rights First called the administration’s participation in the UPR process “an important step in rebuilding U.S. human rights leadership.”
But he added that the organization was disappointed that the report did not reflect more serious consideration of concerns raised and recommendations made by civil society groups during the consultations.
The report highlighted extensive protections in U.S. law and practice for human rights as well as several important steps recently taken to improve human rights and U.S. adherence to international standards. including: An Executive which ended the use of secret cruel interrogation techniques and closed secret CIA prisons; continued commitment to close GuantÃ¡namo Bay; revised parole guidelines for individuals in expedited deportation proceedings found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture; and enactment of the legislation bolstering the U.S. government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes, including those motivated by animus based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.