Massimino Calls for Implementation of Human Rights Treaties Across U.S. Government

(Washington DC December 16, 2009) Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino today called for implementation of human rights treaties across the U.S. government, noting that the United States must meet its own treaty obligations as it seeks to strengthen efforts to advance human rights abroad. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, Massimino urged members of the committee to support and fund measures that can ensure enforcement of the United States’ human rights treaty responsibilities.

“Ensuring compliance with human rights treaty obligations will strengthen U.S. efforts to advance human rights abroad. As Secretary Clinton said in her human rights speech at Georgetown on Monday, we must lead by example. There is no substitute for U.S. global leadership on human rights. Without it, the human rights agenda falters, repressive governments operate with greater impunity, and the very fabric of the norms enshrined in the Universal Declaration frays,” Massimino stated. “When the United States violates these norms – or sets them aside for expediency’s sake – the global consensus erodes. And, as President Obama said in Oslo last week, ‘we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.'”

Massimino’s testimony provided a framework for ensuring greater fidelity to U.S. human rights treaty obligations. She noted that that adherence to these standards would be significantly enhanced by three things:

  • An active and transparent structure within the Administration to evaluate implementation of these obligations and advance changes designed to improve compliance;
  • Robust congressional oversight of that process;
  • A strategy, based on interagency cooperation, for deploying U.S. experience and expertise to advance solutions to shared human rights problems abroad.

In addition, Massimino identified the need for an important education agenda to correct misinformation and misunderstanding among the various stakeholders – the different administrative agencies, state and local governments, civil society organizations, and the media – about the status of international human rights treaties as domestic law and the obligation of the United States to implement and abide by them.

“The human rights treaties to which the United States is a party – on civil and political rights, torture, and racial discrimination – are intended to protect people ‘close to home’ against government abuses of their rights. They are, under our Constitution, part of ‘the supreme law of the land.’ But most Americans have never heard of them, nor have the executive agencies that have – or ought to have – protection of these rights as part of their mandate,” Massimino stated. “Human Rights First has long argued that all three branches of the United States Government must understand human rights laws as part of our domestic law, and that Congress and the Executive Branch should work together to bring these obligations into the mainstream of the domestic agencies with primary jurisdiction over their subject matter.”

Massimino’s testimony also encourage the Departments of State and Justice, as part of their joint efforts to implement human rights treaty obligations at home, to establish a mechanism to share abroad U.S. best practices and expertise on strategies to guarantee civil and political rights, including combating violent hate crime. She noted that following passage of the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the United States has a renewed authority to encourage other nations to toughen their own laws and policies in response to violent hate crime. She added that the United States can offer technical and other forms of assistance to promote training and sharing best practices in the areas of hate crime data collection, investigation and prosecution of hate crime incidents, and strengthening cooperation between local law enforcement, targeted communities and civil society leaders.

Human Rights First noted that the Universal Periodic Review of the United States, announced earlier this week by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and conducted next year, will provide an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the commitment of the United States to uphold its international treaty obligations and to advance a better understanding of those obligations by domestic government agencies and the broader public. It will also enable the United States to set the bar high for other states in relation to how they conduct themselves in their own reviews. Massimino stated that the review must be more than “just talk” and should result in “concrete actions to demonstrate that the United States is holding itself accountable to universal standards.”


Published on December 16, 2009


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