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18 October 2023
Committee Holds a Minute of Silence for the Civilian Victims of Conflict in the Gaza Strip and Around the World
The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of the United States on how it implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with Committee Experts commending measures to address gun violence, and raising issues concerning police violence towards civilians and hate crimes.
A Committee Expert welcomed the positive measures adopted by the State party addressing gun violence, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 and the establishment of a federal office for gun violence prevention on 22 September 2023. Despite these, reports indicated that gun violence in the United States had reached epidemic proportions. This year, as of 1 October 2023, at least 32,548 people had died from gun violence in the United States. Of those who died, 1,096 were teens and 230 were children. There were 527 mass shootings during this period. Did the State party plan to take effective steps to implement evidence-based violence reduction measures?
The Expert said police violence towards civilians remained an all too frequent, and too often deadly occurrence. In 2021 and 2022, police shot and killed approximately 1,200 civilians. These killings and instances of violence had also been reported to disproportionately target Black people and other racial minorities. What steps had been taken to restrict the use of force by law enforcement to the principles of necessity and proportionality? Did the State party plan to implement accountability mechanisms in all cases of excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officials?
One Expert said that 11,000 hate crime incidents were recorded in 2022, the highest number since the State started publishing data in 1991. They were mainly against Black but also lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and Muslim Americans. How did the State party ensure accurate data collection on hate crimes? What had the State party done since 2021 to counter the rise in hate-motivated violence, and to monitor and combat online extremist content?
Michéle Taylor, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council and head of the delegation, introducing the report, said it was not merely out of obligation that the State party sought to live up to the Covenant. It was a moral imperative at the very heart of the State’s democracy and its pursuit of a more perfect union.
On the issue of gun violence, Justin Vail, Special Assistant to the President for Democracy and Civic Participation, Domestic Policy Council, Executive Office of the President of the United States, said President Biden had established the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention to save lives from the public health crisis of gun violence, and implement and expand upon key executive and legislative action, like the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant bipartisan gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years.
The delegation added that in June 2022, the President signed the Safer Communities Act, which promoted best practices for school safety and provided funding resources for school mental health resources. Policies had been implemented to prevent people from accessing firearms if they posed a risk to themselves or others.
Regarding questions on excessive use of force by the police, the delegation said that the Department of Justice was encouraging Congress to act on the End Racial Profiling Act and the George Floyd Policing Act. Actions in addressing excessive force by law enforcement showed that the State was committed to addressing the issue. Guidance had been developed on law enforcement accountability and billions of dollars were provided to improving accountability mechanisms. The State would continue to aggressively respond to racism, bigotry and bias.
On hate crimes, the delegation said white supremacy remained far too prevalent, as demonstrated by the tragic killing of a Palestinian child earlier this week. The State was challenging acts of hate whenever they occurred. It had recently secured several individuals responsible for hate-related killings. It was also combatting non-criminal acts of hate in schools and had invested increased funds in training public officials on combatting hate acts. The State was heartbroken by senseless acts of violence and hate and would continue to work every day to prevent it.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Taylor said the United States was passionate about protecting the rights enshrined in the Covenant. During the dialogue, the delegation had presented the State’s efforts to implement the Convention and pledged to do more to promote civil and political rights. The United States took great pride in what it had achieved and was dedicated to making further strides forwards. This was at the core of the nation.
Tania María Abdo Rocholl, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, said the dialogue had discussed the implementation of prior concluding observations, the use of force by State officials, discrimination in the justice system, the right to life linked to access to water and climate change, violence against women, abortion and reproductive rights, torture, elimination of slavery, the rights of indigenous peoples, and other topics. Ms. Abdo Rocholl welcomed the United States’ return to the Human Rights Council and the Paris Agreement.
The delegation of the United States was made up of representatives of the Department of State; Executive Office of the President; Department of Homeland Security; Department of the Interior; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour Accreditation; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Education; Department of Health and Human Services; Environmental Protection Agency; Department of Defence; Department of Justice; Competitive Innovations; and the Permanent Mission of the United States to the United Nations Office at Geneva; as well as the Mayor of Montgomery, Alabama and the Attorney General of the State of Nevada.
The Human Rights Committee’s one hundred and thirty-ninth session is being held from 9 October to 3 November 2023. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
At the beginning of the second meeting, the Committee held a minute of silence for the civilian victims of conflict in the Gaza Strip and around the world.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m., on Wednesday, 18 October to begin its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Trinidad and Tobago under the optional reporting procedure ( CCPR/C/TTO/QPR/5 ).
Presentation of the Report
MICHÉLE TAYLOR, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council and head of the delegation, said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights had a central role in international human rights law. The delegation extended gratitude to the Committee’s contribution to advancing civil and political rights across the world. It was not merely out of obligation that the State party sought to live up to the Covenant. It was a moral imperative at the very heart of the State’s democracy and its pursuit of a more perfect union. The United States was deeply committed to the rights enshrined in the Covenant.
The State’s commitment to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and indigenous peoples was unwavering. The United States’ significant investments in maternal health and the recently unveiled blueprint to address maternal health crises underscored the State’s commitment to reproductive rights. Women faced unique challenges in enjoying their rights. The United States was also working to advance racial equity and help realise the promise of America for members of marginalised racial, ethnic and indigenous communities across the country. The United States had taken steps to acknowledge and address systematic racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance and the scourge of white supremacy within its own borders.
The United States had invited the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. These visits helped the United States make progress, as did civil society’s contributions. Their shadow reports and consultations compelled introspection that allowed the State to adapt, evolve and improve. The State party welcomed the Committee’s observations and suggestions. The United States took great pride in its strides forward and acknowledged that there were areas to improve.
JUSTIN VAIL, Special Assistant to the President for Democracy and Civic Participation, Domestic Policy Council, Executive Office of the President of the United States, reiterated the State’s commitment to the protection and promotion of civil and political rights of all persons, both globally and at home. The United States had over the last year received over 120 reports from civil society on various human rights issues. The engagement of civil society strengthened the State’s efforts to advance human rights. The State took pride in what it had achieved and recognised that there was more to be done.
The United States was taking action to prevent discrimination and root out the persistent inequalities in the criminal justice system, and to counter hate-motivated violence that threatened public safety and democracy. President Biden had established for the first time a White House Gender Policy Council that led the Administration’s efforts to advance gender equity and equality. The United States continued to uphold its treaty and trust responsibilities and nation-to-nation relationship with Tribal Nations. President Biden also established the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention to reduce gun violence and to save lives from the public health crisis of gun violence and implement and expand upon key executive and legislative action, like the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant bipartisan gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years.
The State party aimed to pass 40 per cent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments to communities that were underserved and overburdened by pollution and the devastating impacts of the climate crisis. It was addressing attacks on the right to vote, reproductive rights and health care, and against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.
Great nations acknowledged their faults, addressing past wrongs and providing hope to human rights defenders. The United States remained committed to cooperating with civil society and the Committee as it continued to promote civil and political rights domestically and across the globe.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert expressed concern that domestic violence continued to be prevalent and that racial and ethnic minority groups were disproportionately affected. What measures had the State party taken to prevent and combat domestic violence, ensure that law enforcement personnel responded appropriately, and provide victims with necessary remedies and services?
Concerning juvenile justice, the Expert noted the progress made by the State party, particularly the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. Were 17-year-olds excluded from juvenile court jurisdictions and was life imprisonment without parole prohibited for juveniles? How did the State party ensure that states could swiftly implement the Act? How had the State party made parole more accessible for prisoners serving life imprisonment?
Would the State party consider ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, on the Rights of the Child, and on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ two Optional Protocols?
What measures had the State party taken to establish a national human rights institute? What was the status of the equal rights amendment?
The Expert welcomed the abolition of the death penalty in several states since the last review and the reinstatement of a temporary moratorium on federal executions. However, death sentences continued to be used at the federal and state levels. Had progress been made on legislation to abolish the death penalty, including the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act of 2023? Had the State party taken any steps to adopt a more permanent and de jure moratorium? There had been concerns regarding lethal injections due to the risk of excruciating pain and a high rate of “botched” executions. Did the State intend to review execution methods to prevent pain? Was the composition of lethal injections available to the public?
Members of racial and ethnic minority groups were reportedly still disproportionately overrepresented on death row. What measures had the State party taken to ensure that the death penalty was not applied in a discriminatory manner? How many wrongful death sentence convictions had been issued, and what remedies, compensation and rehabilitation services were provided to wrongfully convicted persons?
Another Committee Expert said it was disappointing to see the State party’s reluctance to incorporate the Covenant into domestic law. The United States Constitution’s supremacy clause established treaties under the State’s authority as the supreme law of the land. However, the 2008 United States Supreme Court case Medellín v. Texas held that international treaties were not automatically binding. How would the United States ensure the Covenant was enforced at the federal, state, local and territorial levels?
The criminalisation of abortion and the denial of abortion access in numerous states directly contravened the Committee’s general comment 36. How did the United States plan to address State non-compliance with the Covenant? Which judicial decisions in federal and state courts referred to the Covenant? What training or education did the United States provide to judges, officials and law enforcement forces to promote the application of the Covenant?
The Committee was gravely concerned by reports that the United States was evading Covenant obligations by moving individuals outside of its territory. What steps was the United States taking to address these concerns, especially in overseas detention facilities such as Guantanamo Bay; in United States-controlled sites in foreign countries; and aboard United States ships and aircraft? How were detainees’ rights protected in these facilities? The United States’ failure to recognise the applicability of the Covenant outside of its territory resulted in serious human rights violations going unaddressed. When would the State address this?
The United States’ lethal drone programme, which conducted targeted killings around the world, including outside of armed conflict, raised significant concerns about the State’s compliance with the Covenant. These strikes had killed thousands of people around the world, including many civilians. In Somalia, there were reports of 56 strikes since 2020, killing over 1,500 people. What steps would be taken to stop illegal lethal strikes and develop a targeting policy in line with the Covenant? What was being done to ensure that ex gratia payments would be made to civilians who were injured or to the families of civilians who were killed because of United States military activity outside of recognised conflict zones?
Another Committee Expert asked why the State party did not intend to categorically withdraw its reservations on article 6(5) of the Covenant. Had any progress been made in reviewing and withdrawing the State party’s reservations?
The Expert welcomed the positive measures adopted by the State party addressing gun violence, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 and the establishment of a federal office for gun violence prevention on 22 September 2023. Despite these positive measures, reports indicated that gun violence in the United States had reached epidemic proportions. This year, as of 1 October 2023, at least 32,548 people had died from gun violence in the United States. Of those who died, 1,096 were teens and 230 were children. There were 527 mass shootings during this period. Reportedly, gun violence in the United States disproportionately impacted people of colour, other racial minorities, children and women. Did the State party plan to ban access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; pass legislation to prevent perpetrators of domestic violence from accessing guns; repeal gun manufacturers’ immunity from liability; and take effective steps to implement evidence-based violence reduction measures?
The Expert noted the implementation of Executive Order (14074) of 25 May 2022 on “Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing and Criminal Justice Practices to Enhance Public Trust and Public Safety”. However, police violence towards civilians remained an all too frequent, and too often deadly occurrence. In 2021 and 2022, police shot and killed approximately 1,200 civilians. These killings and instances of violence had also been reported to disproportionately target Black people and other racial minorities. What steps had been taken to restrict the use of force by law enforcement to the principles of necessity and proportionality. Did the State party plan to implement accountability mechanisms in all cases of excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officials? Would it end the doctrine of qualified immunity? What steps would the State party take to prohibit racial profiling in federal, state and local legislation?
What measures had been taken to address environmental conditions that gave rise to direct threats to life? How would the State party address the inequity and discrimination that low-income communities, people of African descent and indigenous communities faced in regard to access to clean, safe and affordable water? How would the United States hold states and other authorities accountable for water crises? How was the State party ensuring the sustainability of natural resources and protecting the most vulnerable from the negative impacts of climate change and natural disasters?
Other Committee Experts asked questions concerning systemic racism in the criminal justice system; measures to reduce pre-trial detention nationwide and combat the overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in prisons; ongoing family separation leading to suffering for migrant families and children; measures to promote non-discrimination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community; measures to provide homeless individuals with sanitary shelters, access to food and water, and access to health care; sexual assault cases in educational facilities and in the military; and measures to ensure access to safe and legal abortion and improve health care for all pregnant women in the context of the Supreme Court decision in “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization”, which had been followed by state abortion bans and restrictions.
The delegation said the United States supported sentencing reform at the community level. The State party was committed to enforcing the law in an equal and just manner. Black males received significantly longer sentences than white males. The State had reduced mandatory sentences for certain drug offences. These reforms helped to reduce racial disparities.
Many states had implemented initiatives to close large youth detention facilities. The United States had recently issued two guidance documents to ensure non-discrimination in schools. The Government was working to address the school to prison pipeline through various measures.
The State party was using all tools at its disposal to address excessive use of force by law enforcement officers. The killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless other people of colour by police officers had shocked the world. The United States opened investigations into all such incidents and perpetrators had been held criminally accountable. In several cities, investigations into police departments had led to reforms and training that significantly reduced the excessive use of force by officers. The State encouraged the use of body cameras and the reporting of information on officers’ actions to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The United States was providing clear and direct training to law enforcement agencies to ensure that they did not engage in illegal profiling practices. It had significant work to do to address problems within law enforcement agencies but was committed to using all available tools and resources to address these issues. The city of Montgomery had established a taskforce aiming to achieve law enforcement accountability, reform justice practices, and promote public safety. Initiatives such as civilian review boards were being used to protect the populace and address racial disparities. Over 540 million United States dollars had been invested by the Nevada government in law enforcement tools to address the disproportionate incarceration of Black and indigenous populations. The Department of Homeland Security had issued guidelines for its law enforcement employees on the use of force. Investigations of employees could lead to fines and imprisonment.
The delegation said the United States had taken several actions to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. The Government had proposed a rule that prohibited such discrimination in state services and grants, including community mental health services and housing services. The President supported the Equality Act. The Department of Justice was challenging state laws that discriminated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. It had filed litigation against various states for laws that restricted gender-affirming care. Such laws in Alabama and Kentucky had been prevented from going into effect. State litigation had assisted transgender youth to access sporting teams and housing facilities consistent with their gender identity. There was a Transgender Executive Council that offered advice and guidance to detention institutions. The needs of transgender inmates were addressed through psychology and healthcare services.
The United States took the lack of affordable housing issue very seriously. Since 2021, it had investigated several cases of housing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex youth. The Housing America programme supported access to affordable housing. Many cities in the United States were dealing with the issue of access to housing and homelessness. Local governments were developing affordable housing initiatives. Mayors had been investing in facilities and small public housing.
The State party aggressively enforced laws to resolve situations of sexual harassment in universities. The Department of Education offered extensive training on preventing and responding to sexual violence and harassment. The Department of Justice was providing training to its members on addressing these forms of violence. The State was working to provide increased support for victims of sexual assault in the military. Such offences were investigated, and perpetrators held to account. The State was strengthening the military’s sexual assault workforce.
The Biden-Harris Administration believed that the right to choose was fundamental and would continue to pursue legislation that restored the rights established in Roe v. Wade. The State party had established a new rule to protect the privacy rights of persons who sought and obtained abortions. The State had also issued a “How To” guide for women on how to better protect their data. The State was working to ensure that accountable systems of care were implemented; it was strengthening economic and social support for people before, during and after pregnancy. The Department of Justice continued to monitor state law and took action to defend and protect federal reproductive rights. It was unlawful to use violence to prevent access to reproductive health services. The State had provided training to local authorities on protecting reproductive rights.
President Biden had ended discriminatory bans on entry into the United States. The Department of State now assessed entry into the United States based on the State’s international obligations. All United States embassies had been directed to process the applications of persons subjected to the former bans. Applicants who were previously refused could file new applications without having to pay fees. The Government was working to advance racial equity and support underserved communities. Family unity was a priority for the Government. A taskforce had been created for the reunification of families. The State had committed to a prohibition to the separation of families except under conditions such as severe public security risks. Where separations did occur, the Government promoted reunification.
The Government was dedicated to responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing the Guantanamo Bay facility. Until it was closed, the Government would continue to ensure the safety of detainees. The Government was identifying appropriate transfers for eligible detainees, including to the United States and countries of origin. Every person detained in relation to military operations was treated humanely, regardless of the location of detention.
The United States conducted targeted strikes against specific terrorist targets. These strikes were consistent with international and domestic law. The United States used force consistent with its right to national self-defence. A Presidential Policy Memorandum had recently established standards and procedures governing the use of force related to direct action counter-terrorism activities. The Memorandum established strict policies on the use of force in such operations. United States forces went to extraordinary lengths to limit civilian harm in its counter-terrorism activities. A civilian harm mitigation response plan had been developed and was being implemented. It established a civilian protection centre of excellence, and strengthened training on preventing civilian harm.
Addressing gun violence was a top priority for the Government. The State party was particularly concerned about the disproportionate effects of gun violence on vulnerable communities. In June 2022, the President signed the Safer Communities Act, which promoted best practices for school safety and provided funding resources for school mental health resources. Policies had been implemented to prevent people from accessing firearms if they posed a risk to themselves or others. The Department of Justice had made efforts to end violence against women through its dedicated office. The office had provided more than 480 million dollars in grants in 2022 to support survivors, hold offenders accountable, and train law enforcement officials to prevent violence against women.
A Committee Expert said violence against women disproportionately impacted marginalised groups. Not all states had specific laws on violence against women. Forty-one states in the United States allowed marriage where one of the partners was under the age of 18. Could the State party provide information on measures taken to address violence against women, including training for the judiciary and law enforcement?
Another Committee Expert said that women had been deprived of safe and legal abortion services, which was a form of cruel and degrading treatment. What measures were in place to prevent the criminalisation of women who received abortions and of health care providers who carried out abortions?
One Committee Expert said over 100 children were taken from their parents each year, disproportionately from ethnic and racial minorities. Families had expressed concern about not being able to get their children back from child protection services. What measures were in place to address racial disparities in the child protection services, and to revise laws in this regard?
Another Committee Expert asked whether the State planned to declassify reports into torture by State officials. Was the State party planning to reconsider decisions not to prosecute State officials allegedly involved in torture? How did the State party conduct due diligence regarding the arms trade and was it considering re-joining the Arms Trade Treaty?
Other follow-up questions were asked on measures to address restrictive housing legislation and homelessness, protect cultural midwifery practices, establish a nationwide database on the use of force, rescind life sentences for political prisoners, address bias against transgender students, as well as the effects on the ground of policies addressing the excessive use of force and gun violence.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said the United States was committed to the effective implementation of the international treaties to which it was a party. It did not have a national human rights institute, but had multiple institutions committed to promoting human rights. Civil society had ample opportunity to contribute to policy-making processes. The State party welcomed continuing dialogue on the establishment of a national human rights institute.
The Government was engaged in addressing unnecessary criminal records that affected people’s access to housing. The State was ensuring that local governments did not pass ordinances that punished or restricted marginalised groups from accessing housing.
The United States had a federalist system and the Federal Government had limited ability to address local governments’ decisions. The Department of Justice was encouraging Congress to act on the End Racial Profiling Act and the George Floyd Policing Act. Actions in addressing excessive force by law enforcement showed that the State was committed to addressing the issue. Guidance had been developed on law enforcement accountability and billions of dollars were provided to improving accountability mechanisms. The State would continue to aggressively respond to racism, bigotry and bias. The Office of Justice Programmes had funded programmes that supported marginalised communities’ access to justice.
The state of Nevada had banned chokeholds, had amended laws that allowed for “no-knock warrants”, and had enforced the use of body cameras. Nevada required background checks to purchase guns and permits for concealed firearms.
The Biden-Harris Administration was committed to addressing disparities in the child welfare system for marginalised communities. It had established policies to prevent children from entering the welfare system, and had developed and enhanced the child welfare workforce. Child welfare agencies needed to comply with their legal obligations.
The State party was working to expand access to benefits for persons who were victims of gender-based violence. The Administration was committed to preventing sexual assault in immigration detention facilities. Training was provided on identifying and reporting such abuses. Reproductive health care was provided to detained women.
The delegation said the United States distributed guidance to all schools and posted those documents on State websites. The United States had had laws prohibiting race-based discrimination in schools since the 1970s. The State also sent resource materials on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students to schools. Where state laws conflicted with federal law, federal law applied.
The Housing Department had met several times with civil society to discuss “family unification” vouchers, which aided disadvantaged families to access housing. The 2022 Violence against Women Act gave the Department the power to receive and act on complaints from gender-based violence victims regarding barriers to accessing housing.
The Department of Justice was committed to prosecuting people who committed female genital mutilation, and had prosecuted three people to date. The United States had a law preventing female genital mutilation. It was also working to prevent child marriages. Further, the Violence against Women Act made it a crime for federal officers to engage in sexual conduct with people in federal custody. There were accessible mechanisms for victims of sexual violence in prisons to lodge complaints.
The Constitution prohibited the imposition of the death penalty on the basis of race, but the overrepresentation of minority populations on death row was a serious concern. The Attorney General had issued a “moratorium memorandum”. The justice manual had been updated to inform prosecutors of the gravity of the penalty. Twenty-three states had banned the death penalty. In states where the death penalty was applied, they all prioritised the lethal injection method. Prosecuting death penalty cases cost half a million United States dollars more than non-death penalty cases. Family members of some murder victims had come out against the death penalty. Efforts to repeal the death penalty would continue.
The United States was working to establish a statutory right to seek abortion care. The Supreme Court’s decision did not force states to implement abortion bans. Nevada still allowed abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. The state also allowed non-residents to obtain abortions and would not cooperate with other states to prosecute women who obtained abortions. Nevada was also working to stop the ban of safe abortion medication.
The State party had a duty to make sure that water was accessible and billing for water was transparent. It had provided over 50 billion United States dollars for constructing water infrastructure and reducing water bills for vulnerable communities.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said a specific offence of torture had not yet been introduced at the federal level. Was the State party taking steps to adopt a comprehensive prohibition of all forms of torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment into domestic law, and to ensure that penalties were commensurate with the gravity of the crime? How did the State party ensure the availability of compensation to victims of torture, and ensure the inadmissibility of evidence obtained through the use of torture? Solitary confinement was reportedly still very common in the United States, including especially prolonged and even indefinite solitary confinement. What measures was the State party taking to comply with the Mandela Rules and to limit solitary confinement to a maximum of 15 days? The use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody was prohibited, except under limited conditions. What were those limited conditions?
When would the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed? What legal remedies were available to individuals who were detained there for years, even decades, sometimes without ever facing a trial? Was the transfer of detainees to Guantanamo Bay still permitted? The report recently issued by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter terrorism stated that current conditions and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay amounted to “ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and may also meet the legal threshold for torture”.
The detainees at Guantanamo did not have access to adequate medical treatment, and survivors of torture and other ill-treatment by United States agents were not given adequate rehabilitative services. How would the State party address this issue? Detainees transferred to other countries had reportedly experienced further deprivation of their human rights and some had been subjected to continued arbitrary detention and torture and other ill-treatment. How would the State party ensure that transferred detainees did not suffer further violations of their rights?
Another Committee Expert asked about the measures adopted or envisaged to abolish the criminalisation of victims of sex trafficking and to improve the early identification of victims of trafficking, including non-citizen victims? What measures had the State party taken to ensure all trafficking victims had adequate access to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities, without discrimination, as well as rehabilitation and compensation in order to minimise risks of re-trafficking? Approximately 40 per cent of sex trafficking victims in the United States were recruited online and there were gaps in United States law in regard to addressing extortion and harassment of victims. What measures were in place to address these gaps and combat online sex trafficking?
Workers who entered the United States under the H-2A, H-2B and J-1 visa programmes were particularly at risk of being exploited by their employers or traffickers, who took advantage of gaps in the visa programmes. What steps did the State party plan to take to review and update the H and J visa programmes, as well as to develop standards for monitoring unacceptable working conditions? Unaccompanied minors and children reportedly had been prevented from attending schools and forced to work. Did the State party intend to provide laws and regulations that better protected children from labour exploitation?
What measures would be taken to eliminate forced labour in prisons and to curb the exploitation of incarcerated workers, who were forced to work in poor conditions with little or no pay as well as being excluded from the most basic workplace protections? What measures were in place to implement International Labour Organization Convention 105? Did the State party intend to ratify International Labour Organization Convention 29?
Outside spending on election campaigns grew from 205 million United States dollars across all elections in 2010 to 2.9 billion dollars in the 2020 presidential election. In many cases, more money was spent by outside spending groups than by candidate campaigns, creating an opportunity for foreign entities, corporations, interest groups and individuals to influence elections anonymously. What regulatory measures would be taken to ensure greater transparency and disclosure of unregulated campaign funding from outside interest groups?
Another Committee Expert expressed concern about the criminalisation of irregular migrants and the continued use of immigration detention without due process, with over 30,000 individuals held in United States immigration and customs enforcement detention. What steps were being taken to limit the use of immigration detention and to ensure due process, including access to legal counsel, for all detained non-citizens without discrimination? Were there any measures taken to ensure that human rights-based alternatives to detention were available in law and in practice? How did the new migration measures align with the Covenant? The Expert noted with appreciation the establishment of the Task Force on the Reunification of Families in 2021, but said it was concerning that there were still over 800 children who remained separated from their families as a result of the “Zero Tolerance Policy”. What progress had been made by the Task Force, and what prevented the timely reunification of families? What steps had been taken to encourage reunification and provide separated families with reparation?
There had been additional deaths of migrant children in the care and custody of the Customs and Border Patrol, including the recent preventable death of an eight-year-old girl in May of this year. What investigations had been carried out into these deaths? What measures were in place to protect the lives of detained children and to provide full reparations to the families of the victims? Why were there continuous systemic failures that led to such deaths? There were numerous reports detailing the poor conditions, overcrowding and prolonged detention in immigrant detention facilities. What comprehensive reforms were being considered to improve the conditions of public and private immigration detention facilities?
There had also been reports of excessive use of force by border agents resulting in loss of life and other abuses, including racial profiling, illegal stop and searches, and mistreatment of migrants at the United States-Mexico border. Had these incidents been reviewed and remedies provided to victims? What steps were being taken to ensure that the use of force was limited?
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allowed for a tremendous invasion of the right to privacy and created a very real danger of over-prosecution and law enforcement harassment, particularly through “backdoor searching”. Was the State party considering amendments aimed at safeguarding privacy, such as requiring a warrant before accessing communications? Was the State erasing all records that did not lead to predicated investigations? What measures were in place to ensure that surveillance practices through data collection, application of automated analytical tools, and data sharing by Government agencies complied with obligations under the Covenant? Were there any plans to create comprehensive privacy legislation?
No federal law was in place to protect journalists from federal investigations and surveillance. What measures were available to provide protection for journalists against undue investigations and surveillance? Last year, 57 per cent of nearly 12,000 working United States-based journalists said they were “very or extremely concerned” about restrictions on press freedom. How did the State party plan to instil confidence in journalists so they could operate freely?
There were troubling reports of journalists and media outlets being obstructed by state authorities; and of journalists being attacked, intimated or arbitrarily arrested. Last year, reporter Jeff German was stabbed to death while working on a story concerning the misconduct of elected official Robert Telles, who was later charged with German’s murder. How many complaints had been brought against law enforcement officials for violating the rights of journalists? What investigations had been carried out? How would the United States address the safety concerns of journalists?
As of 2019, 17 states had introduced anti-boycotting laws aimed at sanctioning individuals and enterprises who attempted to boycott foreign countries and corporations for their alleged involvement in human rights violations. What would be done to ensure that anti-boycotting laws at all levels complied with the Covenant? What legal recourse was available to individuals unjustly targeted under anti-boycotting legislation?
Around 11,000 hate crime incidents were recorded in 2022, the highest number since the United States started publishing data in 1991. They were mainly against Black but also lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and Muslim Americans. In 2022, an anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex extremist killed five people at a nightclub in Colorado Springs with a military rifle. In Buffalo last year, a white teenager shot 11 Black victims. How did the State party ensure accurate data collection on hate crimes? What had the State party done since 2021 to counter the rise in hate-motivated violence, and to monitor and combat online extremist content? There were reports that hate speech remained a widespread and worsening problem. What plans were underway to enact laws that prohibited hate speech, and to remove the State’s reservation to article 20 of the Covenant?
Since 2021, many states had introduced bans on books and curricula on certain topics in schools such as people of African descent and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals. How would the United States ensure that individual states were applying measures and guidelines that resulted in better compliance with the Covenant?
Other Committee Experts asked questions on efforts to promote the right to vote and the right to protest; to ensure agricultural and domestic workers’ participation in trade unions; to recognise certain indigenous peoples; to protect indigenous peoples from adverse environmental and health effects caused by toxic waste and pollution; to make real progress in the fight against violence against indigenous women; and to address the root causes of violence against indigenous women?
The delegation said President Biden had made the preservation of democracy a central priority. The Administration had been fighting for the right to vote in free and fair elections. It aimed to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which would establish national standards for access to elections and establish fair election maps. The Administration had called on all federal agencies to promote access to voting, and on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and legislation addressing undisclosed investment in political parties. The 2020 elections were an unprecedented attack on democracy. Voter rights laws had a disproportionate effect on marginalised groups.
Tackling violence against indigenous peoples was a high priority. The date of 25 May 2022 was declared as “Missing Indigenous Peoples’ Day”. An agreement had been made that ensured that all related State officials received training on investigating violence against indigenous women. The United States had set policies promoting tribal self-governments. A federal advisory committee composed of indigenous peoples who were victims of violence had been set up to establish best practices for law enforcement in tribal areas and to combat trafficking in persons. A “Missing and Murdered” unit had been established by the Secretary of the Interior to focus on the cases of missing and murdered indigenous peoples. The Biden Administration prioritised regular and robust consultation with tribal leaders and governments. These governments implemented programmes autonomously with State funds. A memorandum of understanding had been formed on protecting tribal sovereignty rights.
Executive Order 13823 was released in 2018. It aimed to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention centre open. However, the current Administration was committed to a staged closure of the detention centre. Currently, there were 30 detainees at the facility, and the State Department was identifying countries to which eligible detainees could be transferred. The United States needed the support of other countries to ensure the humane transfer of detainees. The United States did not transfer detainees when there was a likelihood that they would be tortured in the destination country. It carried out careful checks to ensure transfers were safe. The State disagreed with the Special Rapporteur’s conclusion that the continued use of the detention centre amounted to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
All acts of torture in the United States could be prosecuted at the federal or state level. The Constitution prohibited the use of seclusion in prisons in a manner that amounted to cruel or degrading treatment. Inmates were not deprived of human contact or recreation opportunities.
The United States was facing hemispheric migration issues. It was working to create lawful pathways to the State for migrants. Unaccompanied children and people with language difficulties were exempted from the Circumvention of Lawful Pathways rule. This rule had supported expedited processing of migrants. The inter-agency taskforce for the reunification of families was established in 2022. It had thus far identified over 5,000 children who were separated from their families and had reunified over 3,000 of these children with their families. Over 200 families had been informed of their right to unification but had not taken action. Reunified persons were provided with psychological support. Housing assistance, medical insurance and streamlined access to immigration status was also provided. Investigations had been conducted on deaths occurring in immigration detention and officials who had been found to have offended were held accountable. Education support and other support services were provided to unaccompanied children.
The Department of Homeland Security had various layers of detention oversight, including the new Detention Ombudsman. The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties investigated complaints regarding conditions of detention, the use of force, and extreme temperatures. It had issued numerous recommendations based on these investigations. One of these recommendations was to increase information available in migrants in their native languages. Congress had devoted 20 million dollars to case management for migrants.
Human trafficking and forced labour remained too prevalent across the State. The Government had issued a national action plan and strategy to combat human trafficking. The Department of Justice had created local and state-level anti-trafficking task forces. It was also coordinating labour trafficking prevention activities. In 2022, the State had brought over 160 cases of trafficking to courts. The State was working to identify and prosecute forced labour. In October 2021, directives were issued to assist victims of trafficking crimes. A new public website on human trafficking had been launched and a resource guide on how to support victims of trafficking had been developed.
Labour laws applied to all workers, regardless of their immigration status. To reduce workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, the State had issued guidance on promoting best practices for protecting the rights of temporary agricultural workers. Employers were obliged to reimburse these workers for visa fees. In September 2023, measures to improve protections for temporary and foreign agricultural workers were proposed. The State had established programmes with origin countries to implement education programmes for persons planning to engage in work in the United States.
The Privacy Act of 1974 governed how federal agencies handled private data. Individuals could challenge the collection of their personal data in court. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act addressed the electronic collection of data. Independent inspectors were in place within each agency to assess the collection of data. The Government conducted audits of the information technology used to collect data on immigrants. The State had issued a pause on commercial data services, such as face recognition technology, for immigration processing until it could be proven that it did not infringe on privacy laws.
Support for unions was at its highest level in more than half a century. A commission had been set up to support collective bargaining. Legislation had also been developed to support employees’ rights to conduct collective bargaining. A State body conducted extensive outreach with employee associations to educate them about their rights and responsibilities. Eight states had agricultural labour laws that ensured the participation of labourers in unions.
White supremacy remained far too prevalent, as demonstrated by the tragic killing of a Palestinian child earlier this week. The State was challenging acts of hate whenever they occurred. It had recently secured several individuals responsible for hate-related killings. It was also combatting non-criminal acts of hate in schools and had invested increased funds in training public officials on combatting hate acts. The State was heartbroken by senseless acts of violence and hate and would continue to work every day to prevent it.
The Constitution guaranteed the right to protest, and the Government was committed to defending that right. Last year, the State had issued guidance on the ways law enforcement could use tools to collect information from journalists. United States cities were investing in bolstering training for law enforcement officials to minimise the use of force in response to protests.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
Committee Experts asked follow-up question on the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention; efforts to decriminalise victims of sex trafficking;
reparations offered to the families of persons who died in immigration detention; plans to create comprehensive laws on privacy; support provided for victims of racially motivated hate crimes; implementation of laws promoting the rights of indigenous peoples; and the Biden Administration’s response to conflicts in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said segregation in immigration custody was used on a limited basis according to legislation. Authorities were ensuring that vulnerable individuals were not placed in segregation, and incidents of inappropriate use of segregation were being investigated.
Human and labour trafficking violated criminal law. There was no federal criminal statute addressing sex work. Sex work was regulated at the local level.
The Federal Government was doing all it could to heal the damage caused by hate crimes. The Department of Justice provided technical and mental health support to victims of such crimes.
MICHÉLE TAYLOR, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council and head of the delegation, said the delegation’s engagement with the Committee demonstrated the State’s dedication to civil and political rights. The United States was passionate about protecting the rights enshrined in the Covenant. During the dialogue, the delegation had presented the State’s efforts to implement the Convention and pledged to do more to promote civil and political rights. It was grateful for the thoughtful and probing questions from the Committee, which were informed by the contributions of civil society. Civil society had engaged with the State party, sharpening its focus on pertinent issues. The United States took great pride in what it had achieved and was dedicated to making further strides forwards. This was at the core of the nation.
TANIA MARÍA ABDO ROCHOLL, Committee Chairperson, expressed thanks to the delegation, civil society representatives and all persons who had contributed to the dialogue. The dialogue had discussed the implementation of prior concluding observations, the use of force by State officials, discrimination in the justice system, the right to life linked to access to water and climate change, violence against women, abortion and reproductive rights, torture, the elimination of slavery, the rights of indigenous peoples, and other topics. Ms. Abdo Rocholl welcomed the United States’ return to the Human Rights Council and the Paris Agreement. She called on the United States to become a party to the treaties to which it was not yet party to and to lift its reservations to the Covenant. The Committee was determined to fulfil its mandate and seek the highest level of implementation of civil and political rights in the United States. The presence of human rights defenders at the dialogue was evidence of their commitment to bolstering human rights. She expressed hope that the effects of the dialogue would extend beyond the Committee’s concluding observations. All involved in the dialogue were contributing to promoting human rights.
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