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U.S. Rejects Recommendations Aimed at Ending Systematic Human Rights Abuses

On September 1, the United States government rejected several recommendations from countries which suggested how the U.S. could better uphold human rights. Rejected recommendations included abolishing the death penalty, ending spying on private communications of people of the world, and allowing foreign aid to assist rape victims in war zones who need access to safe abortions.

The recommendations were made during a Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process for all United Nations member states, who are part of the Human Rights Council.

In a submitted document, the U.S. government indicated which recommendations it outright rejected.

Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Namibia, Nepal Netherlands, Nicaragua, Portugal, Rwanda, Spain, Sweden, Togo, Turkey, and Uruguay each called for the U.S. to work toward abolishing the death penalty.

These same countries—and Azerbaijan and Russia—urged a moratorium on the death penalty. Sweden recommended the U.S. ensure the death penalty complied with international law and persons with mental illness be exempt from execution.

Both France and Sweden asked the U.S. to ensure there was transparency on the nature of the execution drugs being used in executions, but the U.S., which has rejected this recommendation in earlier periodic reviews, refused to accept the recommendation again.

The United Kingdom, Netherlands, Norway, and Belgium each requested the U.S. permit foreign aid for victims in war zones — like the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram — who need safe abortions. “This should apply as a minimum in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, as is also permitted by existing United States federal law,” Belgium stated.

The U.S. government improperly invokes a domestic law, the Helms Amendment, which does not comply with international legal obligations. As a result, the Global Justice Center (GJC) points out [PDF], since 2011, the U.S. has denied “comprehensive medical care to war rape survivors in conflicts around the world and censored billions of dollars in humanitarian and development aid.”

As further outlined by GJC:

The U.S. abortion restrictions are applicable to all U.S. foreign aid without exception and are imposed on nearly all the major providers of medical care for war victims, including the conflict countries themselves and multilateral agencies such as the United Nations (“UN”) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (“ICRC”). It should also be noted that the United Nations Population Fund (“UNFPA”) is subject to a unique restriction in addition to the general restrictions discussed above: UNFPA cannot perform a single abortion, even with funds from other donors, or it will be defunded by the US entirely. Since the U.S. is the largest bi-lateral donor of humanitarian aid in the world, this U.S. anti-abortion policy has become the de facto medical protocol for female victims of war rape worldwide, despite growing global consensus on the imperative to provide safe abortion services to girls and women raped in war.

However, the U.S., which has rejected this recommendation in earlier periodic reviews, refused to accept the recommendation again.

Venezuela, China, and Cuba each recommended the U.S. stop spying on the communications and private data of people around the world, as NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed to be the case. The U.S. outright rejected these recommendations.

Notably, the U.S. agreed it was appropriate to respect and protect the right of privacy, and guard against “arbitrary or illegal interferences in private life and correspondence.” It found it reasonable to examine whether national laws or policies governing surveillance of digital communications are consistent with international law. But the U.S. only agreed to support these recommendations as they apply to U.S. citizens and not people outside U.S. territories.

Other recommendations rejected include a demand to further investigate the CIA for torture.

Bolivia urged the U.S. to extradite Luis Posada Carriles and “other terrorists.” Carriles is believed to have masterminded a bomb plot against a Cuban plane in 1976.

Libya recommended a special prosecutor be appointed to chair an independent commission, which would identify and incarcerate individuals or groups that committed crimes based on racism. That was flatly rejected by the U.S. Chile called for an action plan to address structural racism, and the U.S. opposed that too.

A call by Ecuador to “investigate and prosecute in courts the perpetrators of selective killings through the use of drones, which has cost the lives of innocent civilians outside the United States” was rejected as well.

“Remove the agriculture exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which would raise the age for harvesting and hazardous work for hired children taking care to distinguish between farm owner and farm worker children,” Belgium suggested. The U.S. rejected this recommendation.

There were a bunch of recommendations related to treaties, which the U.S. rebuffed.

Most importantly, several countries recommended the U.S. sign the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which is aimed at abolition of the death penalty. The U.S. opposed this recommendation.

The U.S. signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in the late 1970s, but the treaty has not been ratified. President Barack Obama’s administration has indicated it will not take action on this treaty, and the U.S. flatly refused to accept calls to ratify the treaty now.

In 2006, an optional protocol of the Convention Against Torture went into force. It established a system for having human rights monitors visit detention centers to prevent torture in countries, which are signatories.

The U.S. is not a signatory and shunned countries’ recommendations to ratify this treaty.

Guatemala recommended the U.S. ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The U.S. rebuffed this request.

The U.S. rejected calls from Cyprus, Fiji, France, Guatemala, Maldives, New Zealand, Slovenia, and Timor-Leste to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although the U.S. is a signatory, in 2002, the U.S. indicated it had no intention to ratify and did not have to follow any of the treaty’s obligations.

Several countries recommended the U.S. create a national human rights institution.
Chile, Congo, Gabon, Hungary, Morocco, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and Venezuela each put forward this suggestion. But the U.S. spurned each of these recommendations, preferring not to engage any countries on the issue of forming a national human rights body.

“We note that we have federal, state, and tribal legislation and strategies in place to combat discrimination, including racial discrimination, and we take effective measures to counter intolerance, violence, and discrimination against members of all minority groups, including African-Americans, Muslims, Arabs, and indigenous persons,” the U.S. government declared.

Even as black Americans and indigenous people are disproportionately impacted by police violence and American Muslims face a rise in hate fueled by right-wing militia groups and media outlets, the U.S. government still insists there is no need for a body to focus on national human rights.

File: An ink stamp in the shape of a Facebook "LIKE" icon is used on a folded sheet of white paper. (Flickr / Denis Dervisevic)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."