Live from Geneva: The United States Takes Center Stage

The Advocates’ scorecard to track recommendations from the international community

There may be a few reasons the world’s eyes are on the United States in recent days, but for three and a half hours on Monday, those eyes will be focusing not on election results, recounts, or infection rates, but on our country’s human rights record.

From 7:30 to 11:00 a.m. (CST) on Monday, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva to hold its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States. Read more about the process here.

The U.S. Government is sending a delegation to Geneva headed up by Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Robert A. Destro. Destro and colleagues will describe the status of human rights in the country and any progress the country has made in implementing recommendations it accepted from the last UPR in 2015. The State Department recently submitted its own national report to inform the UPR process.

The national report presents the current administration’s views on pressing human rights concerns. For example, responding to 2015 UPR recommendations to address police profiling, excessive use of force, and systemic racism in law enforcement, the report asserts:

Each of these recommendations assumes – wrongly in our view – that the United States and federal, state and local governments engage in “systemic” racial discrimination, racial profiling, and that federal, state and local law enforcement officers are regularly engaged in excessive uses of force. We reject the notion that law enforcement in the United States is “systemically” racist.

As part of the UPR’s peer-review process, 120 countries have signed up to take the floor and offer their praise, criticisms, and recommendations for how the United States can better uphold its obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Due to time constraints, each country will have just 55 seconds to provide its input. Slovakia will kick off the “interactive dialogue” on Monday and then the countries will proceed alphabetically, wrapping up with Singapore.

Ten countries have submitted advance questions for the U.S. delegation on topics ranging from LGBTI rights to the controversial Commission on Unalienable Rights to immigration detention and police violence.

For this UPR of the United States, The Advocates submitted reports to the Human Rights Council addressing three critical human rights issues – asylum, labor trafficking, and the death penalty. Separately, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, The Advocates made a detailed statement to the Council about the urgent need to dismantle the systemic racism that both fuels police violence in the US and leads to impunity for law enforcement officers who commit such violence. We’ve been busy engaging in electronic lobbying and holding online events to encourage countries to take up our issues during their brief statements.

Sadly, there have been significant adverse developments in all of the areas addressed by our submissions since the last UPR of the United States in 2015, and it is more important than ever for the international community to use its influence to pressure the US for change.

The federal government will have until March 2021 to decide whether to accept each recommendation it receives. Accepted recommendations set the stage for civil society to pressure the government toward implementation before the next UPR in 2025.

Here are some ways you can follow the UPR of the United States on Monday and get involved:

  • Watch the entire review live on UN Web TV, or when it appears in the archives later the same day. You can use our scorecard to keep track of which countries raise our issues.
  • Follow our Twitter feed at @The_Advocates, where we will livetweet the review. If you see us tweet a recommendation you think is particularly relevant or effective, especially if it addresses one of our issues of concern, retweet it and thank the government that made the recommendation. If we’ve @ mentioned the government in our tweet, they’ll see your reply. 
  • Join us on Facebook as we livestream two thematic debriefings on Tuesday, November 10:
    • At noon CST, we’ll have a conversation with staff, volunteers, and partners about immigration, worker rights, and police violence and accountability, where we’ll show clips of some of our favorite statements, celebrate successes, and plan our next steps. 
  • Join us as we collaborate on strategies to encourage the administration to accept recommendations before the Human Rights Council meets in March 2021 to conclude its review of the United States.

By Lisa Borden, staff attorney for the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights. Before joining The Advocates earlier this year, Lisa practiced law in Alabama and worked on civil rights litigation including numerous death penalty cases. Lisa was also a frequent pro bono volunteer for The Advocates while in private practice.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. The Advocates represents more than 1000 asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and immigrants in detention through a network of hundreds of pro bono legal professionals.

This post was originally published on The Advocates Post.