The Longest Now

UNHRC: Periodic Rights Review (US edition)
Wednesday June 27th 2012, 7:34 am
Filed under: indescribable,international,Too weird for fiction,Uncategorized

My recent post about China’s parody of the annual US reports on national human rights made me want to read the actual reports.  It’s the sort of cleanly organized information that I love, combined with the lack of citations and categories that I hate.  We’ve never issued a high-level summary of that form about our own country.  But we did take part in a review of national human rights last year, for the UN Human Rights Committee – something similarly high-level but less methodical.

If this sort of thing interests you, you will enjoy the full details of that process, which gives quite a rich flavor to our internal national discourse, complete with:

  • A puffy initial “toward a more perfect world” self-assessment
  • A mix of moral, practical and political recommendations from all UN member states (put forth by any interested state during an open 3-hr Q&A session, and compiled into their own report; resulting in a fascinating set of ~250 recs including 70 or so duplicates for the popular ones)
  • A quick reflection after that Q&A, followed by a refreshingly detailed set of  straightforward responses to those recommendations

The recs and responses are worth reading all the way through.  They are concise and – aside from Cuba and Venezuela occasionally derailing the discussion – all seem to take the process most seriously.  If you’re not keen on all the details, here are some highlighted recs with our responses in italics:

  • Perennial topics:  Ratify the declaration of indigenous rights (x10 different recommendations for this): yes, done;  similar covenants on the rights of women; on children; and on the disabled(x20+): support, let’s make progress;  the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights (x18): sorry no progress here limit our policy of treaty reservationsno, though we may consider specifics)
  • The death penalty:  this is unsurprisingly the juiciest topic.  We are the last western country to kill prisoners, which is more clearly immoral to each generation.  This drew the plurality of recs.  Again,  straightforward and telling responses (Abolish the death penalty(x20+): no;  place a national moratorium on the death penalty (x10): no;  consider placing a moratorium on the death penalty(x5): no;  restrict the number of offenses carrying the death penalty(x2): noo;  consider reviewing relevant laws or studying the possibility of starting a campaign to implement a moratorium(x3): still no;  withdraw the reservation to article 6, paragraph 5 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights that prohibits the death penalty for those who committed a crime when they were minors(x1): not as such;  consider withdrawing the reservation to article 6, paragraph 5 of the ICCPR(x2): okay, will consider.)
  • Those 200+ recommendations just keep giving.  Algeria made the recommendation I did above, “include and rank the human rights situation in the US in the annual country reports on human rights – as was done for the annual report on trafficking of persons” (in 2010)  This was met with one of our few specious responses: no need, also we don’t rank anyone.
  • Norway is awesome.  They make 7 solid apolitical recommendations. No rehashing international policy disputes or convention-signing, which can be nominal at best: a focus on essential changes that can be carried out now, and would be historically significant.

All this gets at my initial questions in more detail than I knew how to ask.   Details after the jump.

Are we open to including the US in these annual reports?  We said no last year.  But a year earlier, the State Dept  recognized the value in exactly such a change for the biggest sub-report on human rights:  human trafficking.   From the introduction to the 2010 Trafficking In Persons report: “The Report, for the first time, includes a ranking of the United States based on the same standards to which we hold other countries. The United States takes [this] not as a reprieve but as a responsibility to strengthen global efforts against modern slavery, including those within America. This human rights abuse is universal, and no one should claim immunity from its reach or from the responsibility to confront it.”  One assumes the same holds true for all human rights abuses.  So: maybe-soon-yes?

Are we still considering setting up an umbrella federal human rights body?  It is a very popular request by our peers, and we’re open to considering it; but have no active plan we hope to implement.

And this raises a few new questions, about the death penalty and whether we are capable of hearing what other cultures are saying on that score; and about Norway’s other recommendations.  I will write more about these aspects of the review in a future post.  Update: Part 2 is now posted with the details of those recommendations.

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