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U.S. Gets Human Rights Advice From the World

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On November 5, the United States had its first-ever formal evaluation under the Universal Period Review process before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This process was established in 2006 to periodically review the human rights records of UN member states. But the George W. Bush administration apparently thought it was above this sort of thing.

As a result of this year's process, on November 10, the UNHRC issued a report of its findings and recommendations from the U.S. review. Most obvious were recommendations that the U.S. ratify several international human rights conventions and treaties that we have not yet formally endorsed. To no surprise, our use of torture and racial profiling, and the obvious culture of xenophobia apparent in our national discourse, also figured prominently in the feedback.

Below are some key excerpts from the report's recommendations on how the U.S. can improve its human rights standing in the world. The recommending nation appears in parenthesis after each item.

92.1. Ratify without reservations the following conventions and protocols: CEDAW; the ICESCR; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance; the Statute of the International Criminal Court; those of the ILO; the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, and all those from the Inter-American Human Rights System (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela) [with similar recommendations by France, Russia, Spain, Canada, Japan, and several other nations];

92.51. Comply with its international obligations for the effective mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, because of their impact in climate change (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela);

92.56. Repeal the norms that limit freedom of expression and require journalists to reveal their sources, under penalty of imprisonment (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela);

92.66. Enact a federal crime of torture, consistent with the Convention, and also encompassing acts described as "enhanced interrogation techniques' (Austria);

92.67. Take legislative and administrative measures to address a wide range of racial discrimination and inequalities in housing, employment and education (Democratic People's Republic of Korea);

92.68. Take legislative and administrative measures to ban racial profiling in law enforcement (Democratic People's Republic of Korea);

92.70. Take appropriate legislative and practical measures to improve living conditions through its prisons systems, in particular with regard to access to health care and education (Austria);

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92.75. End the blockade against Cuba2 (Cuba); Put an end to the infamous blockade against Cuba (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela); Lift the economic, financial and commercial blockade against Cuba, which affects the enjoyment of the human rights of more than 11 million people (Plurinational State of Bolivia);

92.81. Take the necessary measures in favor of the right to work and fair conditions of work so that workers belonging to minorities, in particular women and undocumented migrant workers, do not become victims of discriminatory treatment and abuse in the work place and enjoy the full protection of the labour legislation, regardless of their migratory status (Guatemala);

92.82. Adopt a fair immigration policy, and cease xenophobia, racism and intolerance to ethnic, religious and migrant minorities (Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela);

92.85. Formulate goals and policy guidelines for the promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples and cooperation between government and indigenous peoples (Finland);

92.88. Invite United Nations Special Rapporteurs to visit and investigate Guantanamo Bay prison and United States secret prisons and to subsequently close them (Islamic Republic of Iran);

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92.122. Abolish the death penalty and in any event, establish a moratorium as an interim measure towards full abolition (Australia); Abolish capital punishment and, as a first step on that road, introduce as soon as practicable a moratorium on the execution of death sentences (Hungary); That steps be taken to set federal and state-level moratoria on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty nationwide (Norway);

... and much more.

It is a good sign that the U.S. chose to submit itself to this level of scrutiny. However, good intentions will mean nothing if the Obama administration does not follow through on these constructive recommendations from its partners in the world community.

Talk is cheap. Rhetoric is cheap. The world wants action. And the world wants some positive change that we can all believe in.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
 

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