Shutdown Delays U.N. Probe of U.S. Human Rights Record; GOP Blamed

By Patrick Goodenough | October 16, 2013 | 4:14am EDT

Human Rights Committee Nigel Rodley, photographed here in New York in 2010, is unhappy that the U.S. federal government shutdown resulted in a postponement of the panel's scheduled examination of the U.S. compliance with an international rights convention. (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

( – A United Nations’ review of the United States’ compliance with international human rights norms will not happen as scheduled because of the partial government shutdown, and the chairman of the reviewing body blames the Republican Party.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Committee was due to have examined the U.S. record on Thursday and Friday, but reluctantly agreed to postpone the session at the request of the U.S. government.

The discussion, which is expected to include scrutiny of such controversial issues as Guantanamo Bay detentions, National Security Agency surveillance and “stand your ground” laws, has been moved to next March.

The committee’s chairman, Nigel Rodley, said as he opened a three-week session on Monday that the panel was normally unwilling to grant extensions at short notice, but he felt he had no choice on this occasion.

The U.S. delegation had made it clear that it was willing to participate in the scheduled review, but could not, “for reasons that had been widely covered in the media.”

Rodley, a British international law professor, then went further, laying the blame for the rare postponement squarely at the door of the GOP and its stance on Obamacare.

“The political party of Abraham Lincoln that, in fire and blood ended slavery and gave freedom to millions of people of African descent, seemed now to have party members who thought that wealth did not just rhyme with health, but should also determine access to it,” the U.N. record of the meeting cited him as saying.

“To achieve its aim it has brought the government of the United States to a standstill and to the brink of defaulting on its national debt.”

The Human Rights Committee is a body of 18 independent legal experts who review countries’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty signed by the U.S. in 1977 and ratified in 1992. It should not be confused with the U.N.’s flagship Human Rights Council, also based in Geneva, of which the Obama administration has been a keen member since 2009.

Rodley said as a result of the postponement, those who had been looking to the committee to address their concerns about their treatment in the U.S. under the ICCPR were now left unsatisfied.

The committee was also aware that many members of civil society who had planned to attend the review had been seriously financially disadvantaged by its late cancellation, he said.

The Human Rights Committee’s current session, which runs through November 1, will examine five other countries, as scheduled. But the timeslot that had been set aside for the U.S. on Thursday and Friday this week will instead be dedicated to a discussion on article nine of the ICCPR, dealing with the “liberty and security of person.”

Judging from previous meetings on “liberty and security of person,” U.S. counterterror policies will likely feature. A draft document states that article nine protects a person’s liberty (“freedom from confinement of the body”) and security (“freedom from injury to the body”) and that these rights are guaranteed to “everyone,” including “persons who have engaged in terrorist activity.”

“International embarrassment’

As reported earlier, the now-postponed U.S. review of ICCPR compliance is expected to deal with some sensitive issues.

Civil society submissions made to the committee in preparation for the review included one from Human Rights Watch citing “abusive counterterrorism policies,” one from the Center for Reproductive Rights dealing with “restrictive abortion laws” and “the impact of religious refusal laws on women’s reproductive healthcare,” and one from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida raising concerns about the “disproportionate minority impact of felon disfranchisement.”

Having put the topic of “felon disfranchisement” onto the agenda for the review, the Florida ACLU is now seeking support for a petition urging relevant state authorities to change the regulations “and avoid international embarrassment for our state.”

According to Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s human rights program, the ACLU and other groups submitted reports to provide the U.N. committee “with a full picture of the state of civil and political rights in the U.S., which in many areas, ranging from the death penalty to privacy and more, remains starkly out of step with international commitments.”

The government’s own report to the committee “is riddled with holes, failing to address serious legal and policy questions raised by the committee,” Dakwar wrote last month.

Submissions by the ACLU and other civil society group “seek to fill these gaps, as well as provide the committee with questions and recommendations to pursue with the government during the review process.”

The Human Rights Committee is also expected to quiz the U.S. delegation on “stand your ground” laws, gun violence, voter-ID laws, NSA surveillance, drone strikes, “police brutality and excessive use of force” against “undocumented migrants crossing the United States-Mexico border,” and the racial and religious profiling of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians, among other topics.

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