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January 09, 2024

A National Human Rights Institution for the US: Why Don't We Have One?

The United States, an advocate for human rights abroad, lacks a domestic mechanism for ensuring compliance of its human rights obligations at home.  Over the past year, after extensive research and investigation by independent UN experts (including consultation with civil society groups and directly affected people, and meetings with the US government), four important reports on strengthening US compliance with international human rights standards have been issued by UN bodies. They focus on a wide range of issues, from voting rights to policing, education to housing, immigration to reproductive rights, and more. Each report is grounded in US international human rights obligations and commitments, and offers specific recommendations for how the US could improve its human rights record.

The United States, however, has no mechanism to implement such recommendations.  The US is an outlier among Western democracies (and most of the other countries in the world) as it does not have a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI).  

An NHRI would be helpful not only in having a central address to monitor and promote implementation of the US' international human rights obligations, but also as a much-needed vehicle for human rights education, civic engagement, and rule of law domestically. An NHRI could also help to support the growing number of state and local human rights commissions around the country. So why don't we have one?

Speakers discuss both the substantive and structural needs for the United States to improve its human rights compliance. Speakers focus on recent recommendations by UN human rights bodies, the need to create an NHRI to address them, and current efforts underway to make a National Human Rights Institution in the United States a reality.

Panelists

  •  Jamil Dakwar – Director, Human Rights Program, American Civil Liberties Union
  •  Martha F. Davis –  University Distinguished Professor of Law and Co-Director, Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy, Northeastern University School of Law
  • David Kaye – Clinical Professor of Law and Director, International Justice Clinic, University of California, Irvine School of Law

Moderator

  • Deena R. Hurwitz – Human Rights Attorney; Division Chair, Human Rights and Corporate Responsibility Division, ABA International Law Section

Resources

Campaign for an NHRI in the USA

Establishing a National Human Rights Institution in the United States, A Special Report of the International Justice Clinic, UC Irvine School of Law (Dec 2022)

U.S. Compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Shadow Report by the Program on Human Rights and Global Economy at Northeastern Law School to the UN Human Rights Committee for the US review of compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 

Dávila A., Sarah and et al., "SHADOW REPORT SUBMISSIONS AND UPDATES COMPILED BY THE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CLINIC AT UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS CHICAGO SCHOOL OF LAW AND PROGRAM ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE GLOBAL ECONOMY AT NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW" (2023). UIC Law White Papers. 23.

United Nations Human Rights Committee Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United States of America (Nov 2023)

Joint Letter sent to Ambassador Susan Rice, then the Director of the Domestic Policy Council

IAOHRA Letter to Congress and the White House

PRESS RELEASE: Members of Congress Join Rights Groups in Urging White House to Study Creating National Human Rights Institution | American Civil Liberties Union

Op-Ed: How Biden can formalize his promises to safeguard human rights | The Hill, Jamil Dakwar and Noah Ponton

Paris Principles | Global Alliance of Human Rights Institutions

Executive Order 13107 - Implementation of Human Rights Treaties | December 10, 1998

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