For the first time, the U.S. is participating in a process that allows the United Nations to review the human rights records of all member states. The first step of that process began today with consultations by U.S. government officials with civil society in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast. Similar consultations will take place around the country for the next few months in order to prepare a U.S. report to the UN Human Rights Council this summer. The Council is expected to review the U.S. report in December and issue a report in early 2011.
In 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana participated in hearings in Geneva, Switzerland before the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), to highlight human rights and racial justice problems that became apparent in the aftermath of the post-Katrina flooding of 2005. The ACLU of Louisiana has focused on the inhumane treatment at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), and continues to monitor conditions there. At the urging of the ACLU of Louisiana, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated OPP and last fall issued a report finding multiple violations of the rights of its prisoners. Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said: "This review of the human rights conditions in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast is both welcome and badly needed. It's past time for residents of Louisiana to have assurance that their rights will be respected and that the world is watching as we continue to rebuild and to move forward."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi is taking part in today's consultations in New Orleans, speaking primarily about issues related to criminal justice and post-Katrina reconstruction efforts. The ACLU and its affiliates will also play roles in upcoming consultations in New York, Alabama, New Mexico, California, Michigan, Texas and Washington, D.C., speaking about a range of human rights issues affecting millions of people in the United States.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process was introduced with the formation of the reformed UN Human Rights Council in 2006. Each UN member state's human rights record will be reviewed by three of their peers who will review all human rights obligations and commitments to which the member state is a party, as well as any voluntary pledges and commitments made by that country. Last year, the U.S. formally joined the Human Rights Council and pledged to respect human rights at home and abroad.
The following can be attributed to Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program:
"Today is the first step in a process that hopefully will bring U.S. policies in line with international human rights standards. The Obama administration will have the opportunity to hear directly from affected communities about human rights concerns and find workable solutions. This process also provides an opportunity to spotlight domestic human rights issues and offers a chance to hold local, state and federal governments to human rights obligations and commitments. This administration has repeatedly stated that human rights at home and abroad are a priority. We look forward to working with government representatives to evaluate the U.S. human rights record and helping to find solutions where improvements must be made, including the creation of a much-needed mechanism within the administration that would hold the U.S. accountable to international human rights standards and commitments."
For more information about the UPR, please visit: www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/BasicFacts.aspx and www.state.gov/g/drl/upr/130574.htm