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The United States is NOT Above Human Rights Law!

September 21, 2015

Woodhull Freedom Foundation, as Chair of the US Human Rights Network (USHRN) Sexual Rights and Gender Justice Working Group, joins the Network in expressing, via this statement, our deep disappointment in the response of the US Government to the 343 human rights recommendations made during the 2015 Universal Periodic Review (UPR).   The UPR is based on the recognition that no country is above human rights law. Yet, in its response to the UPR recommendations, we see a perspective of US exceptionalism from the US Government with its assertion that it only supports recommendations that the US is in the process of implementing or already taken action on. This suggests that there is no room for improvement – a position that not only runs counter to the hard work of civil society to dismantle structural barriers to equality in the US but also threatens to undermine the UPR process itself. 

The Obama Administration has refused to support the recommendations to abolish the death penalty, institute a moratorium on the death penalty to examine discriminatory impacts, or even have transparency around the drugs used for lethal injection. We dispute the notion that the federal government’s hands are tied on the death penalty. As we recently saw in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case in Massachusetts, the federal death penalty can be enacted in any state including those that do not have the death penalty. Moreover, the majority of countries in the world have abolished the use of the death penalty. In a continued practice of double standards, the US again refuses to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. On economic, social, and cultural rights, the US falls back on the premise that they are to be realized progressively without mentioning that international law also dictates that countries must use their maximum available resources to realize these rights. The US is still the world’s wealthiest economy yet we have the second highest child poverty rate of any industrialized countries, 1 in 6 people are food insecure, there is no mandated maternity leave policy, and tens of thousands cut off from the human right to water.

The Obama Administration inaccurately insists that domestic civil rights law is in compliance with US obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). While CERD has always been stronger than domestic anti-discrimination laws, the Supreme Court ruling in the 2001 Sandoval case that eliminated a private right to action for discriminatory impact, the lack of intersectional understandings around the gender related dimensions of racial discrimination, and the lack of a proactive and comprehensive action plan to end racial discrimination in all aspects of life all dispute this claim.

We reject the US Government’s assertion that ending racism and all other forms of discrimination, the end of excessive force by police, and ensuring right to healthcare, among other recommendations, are to be recognized as ideals that may never be attained. We reassert that they are necessary measures that deserve concrete, comprehensive, and intersectional action if the US intends to ensure and affirm human rights. Indeed, there are countries around the world that have made significant progress on these fronts. Lip service and piecemeal responses are, and never have been, enough.

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