An important event took place last month in Geneva, Switzerland, but few in the United States, apart from human rights advocates, knew anything about it.
The U.S. ratified the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights about 20 years ago. In effect, this treaty is an international Bill of Rights. In ratifying the treaty, the U.S. agreed to abide by its provisions and to report at regular intervals to the UN Human Rights Committee, composed of experts in human rights law, to give an accounting of our progress in meeting the standards of the treaty.
The U.S. has never been enthusiastic about subjecting itself to such scrutiny by outside groups. Many, especially members of Congress, claim that the U.S. is an “exceptional” country, and should not be held to the same standards as other countries.
The U.S. government has just gone through its fourth review process. The Committee raised a large number of concerns, which the U.S. will have to address in its next report, in 2019. But four issues were considered so urgent that the U.S. was asked to provide a written response within one year. These four areas of particular concern are lack of accountability of individuals for past human rights violations, gun violence, detainees at Guantánamo Bay and NSA surveillance.
To those of us who are members of Amnesty International, we find that the concerns and recommendations of the Human Rights Committee are consistent with the human rights priorities of our organization, and mirror the requests that we have made of our government.
One additional concern of the Committee was the continued assertion by the U.S. that while the government is bound by the provisions of the treaty within the United States, it does not apply to individuals under U.S. jurisdiction outside the country. This means that if a person is captured by U.S. agents, legally or illegally, and held outside the U.S., that person does not have the same civil and political rights that he or she would have if held within the U.S. That interpretation is contrary to that held by the Committee and by the International Court of Justice. Amnesty International has always held that human rights are universal and apply equally to all governments and all individuals. Any other interpretation puts us all at risk, even from our own government.
Robert E. Pearson
Amnesty International USA
New Mexico, Rociada