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(Geneva) – The United States should make concrete commitments to address serious human rights problems during a United Nations review of its human rights record, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 11, 2015, the US is scheduled to undergo its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which UN member countries will raise past US human rights pledges and new concerns. The UN Human Rights Council periodically reviews the human rights progress of each member every four-and-a-half years during this process. The first review of the US was in 2010.

“At the UN rights review, the US has been strong on process and short on substance,” said Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The US has little progress to show for the many commitments it made during its first Universal Periodic Review.”

During the current UN review, Human Rights Watch has flagged concerns over the newly revealed mass surveillance programs, longstanding concerns over indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo Bay, and the lack of accountability for torture under the previous administration.

The UN established the UPR process in 2006. Countries under review submit written reports on their human rights situation and respond to the questions and recommendations put forward by UN member countries at the Human Rights Council. All 193 UN member countries undergo these reviews.

The United States engaged in extensive consultation with nongovernmental organizations in the lead-up to its UPR. In its first review in 2010, the US accepted 171 recommendations out of 240 from other member countries. However, the US has largely failed to follow through on these recommendations. For example, the US agreed to:

  • Take measures to “improve living conditions through its prison system,” “increase its efforts to eliminate alleged brutality and use of excessive force by law enforcement officials” against Latinos, African Americans, and undocumented migrants, and study racial disparities in the application of the death penalty. Five years later, the US has done little on these recommendations;
  • “[I]nvestigate carefully each case” involving the detention of migrants and ensure immigration detention conditions meet international standards. While UN bodies oppose all detention of immigrant children, the US has in the past year embraced the detention of immigrant children and their mothers; and
  • Seek the ratification of core international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Obama administration submitted only the Disability Rights Convention to the Senate for its consent, and was unable to muster the two-thirds majority necessary for ratification.

UN member countries should hold the US to its past human rights commitments by making sure that new recommendations are concrete, specific, and measurable, Human Rights Watch said.

“Governments at the Human Rights Council should press the US on mass surveillance, police violence, and detention of migrant families,” Ginatta said. “The US should take the opportunity to make a serious commitment to roll back these abusive practices.” 

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