UPR of the United States: no new commitments
Friday, 05 November 2010 18:02

The universal periodic review (UPR) of the United States of America (US), which took place on 5 November, was undoubtedly one of the most highly anticipated reviews as it presented an opportunity for States to scrutinise the human rights record of a dominant world power. The UPR of the US also set new records. Its State delegation was made up of more than 40 persons; more than 70 NGO representatives from the US came to Geneva to attend the review; and 15 NGO side events on the human rights situation in the US were held. The review attracted a high level of State interest with more than 80 States inscribed to speak. It is also likely the US will be the subject of one of the highest number of UPR recommendations to date.


Continuing problems with a limited list of speakers for the UPR reached new levels. State delegations anxious to get on the list, some because their jobs may have been at stake, have speculated for months about how the list would be drawn up. Despite a well-established practice that the list is drawn up by OHCHR on a first-come first-served basis one day before the review, Cuba and Venezuela started their own list more than a week before the review that delegations then rushed to get on. However, the Secretariat informed all States this list would not be accepted and that States would have to follow established practice and line up. According to Germany, several diplomats even spent the night in front of the UN building to get on the list.


While the unprecedented initiative of Cuba and Venezuela was no doubt aimed at ensuring certain countries (Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and Nicaragua) would speak first, overall the list of speakers was quite balanced with countries from all regions. These States departed from usual diplomacy by not politely welcoming the US delegation. Unsurprisingly, they also departed from their usual soft approach to the review of States under review, by strongly criticising and making specific recommendations to the US. These included recommendations on highly political issues that seem to have little to do with the human rights record of the US, such as the economic blockade of Cuba. Other States welcomed the US' constructive engagement with the Human Rights Council.


While some of the issues raised reflected bilateral interests of some States, many common substantive issues were addressed, although often superficially. These included recommendations to ratify the many core international treaties that the US is not yet a party to, such as CEDAW, CRC, CRPD, CMW, and ICESCR. Other recommendations included removing reservations to certain treaties the US is a party to, and establishing a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolition. In response to the latter the US argued that international law does not ban the death penalty.


The US clearly demonstrated the seriousness of its engagement with the UPR process, engaging in extensive consultations with civil society in preparation for the review, and sending a high level delegation to Geneva, led by three assistant secretaries of state (for International Organisations; Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; and the Legal Adviser for the State Department). The State also provided detailed answers to questions over four rounds on its approach to ratifying international human rights treaties. The US expressed its commitment to ratifying CEDAW and CRPD; efforts to ensure equality for women, persons with disability and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons; combating racial discrimination and racial profiling; addressing torture and ill-treatment; migrants; indigenous people and ongoing consideration of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the possibility of setting up an independent national human rights institution at the federal level; and on economic and social rights issues such as housing.


On issues related to armed conflicts that the US is engaged in, the delegation refuted allegations of improper military conduct overseas and argued that drone killings are not unlawful. It also questioned the applicability of human rights law in situations of armed conflict, saying that this depended on each case. It also reiterated President Obama's commitment to the closure of the Guantanamo detention facility and the Government's opposition to any use of torture. Its replies were often defensive and merely explained existing policies and reiterated its views and positions.


In closing remarks, Mr Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, thanked States for the constructive questions and recommendations, and civil society organisations for their active engagement in the UPR process. He acknowledged that the US needs to increase its efforts to ensure human rights.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 November 2010 11:40
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