Obama Administration Responding to 228 Proposals -- Including Some From Libya, Cuba, North Korea -- on Human Rights in the U.S.

March 8, 2011 - 6:12 AM

Harold Koh

State Department legal adviser Harold Hongju Koh addresses a press conference in Geneva on Friday, November 5, 2010 after the Human Rights Council reviewed the human rights record of the United States. Two other delegation members – Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Esther Brimmer and Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner – look on. (Photo: US Mission Geneva/Flickr)

(CNSNews.com) – The United States’ human rights record will be back in the spotlight at the U.N. Human Rights Council next week, when the U.S. delegation provides its response to more than 200 recommendations made by other governments, ranging from liberal democracies to the repressive regimes ruling Libya, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and China.

The recommendations cover a broad range of issues, from combating “Islamophobia” to scrapping Arizona’s controversial immigration law, Senate Bill 1070.

March 18 marks the final step in the process known as the United States’ first universal periodic review (UPR), an examination supervised by the Human Rights Council that every U.N. member state is expected to undergo every four years.

In a three-hour “interactive dialogue” last November, the U.S. delegation explained its human rights policies and heard comments and criticisms from scores of other country delegations.

Since then, the U.S. has considered a total of 228 recommendations made by various governments, and next Friday it will present the HRC with its response, indicating which recommendations it accepts and will act on, and which ones it rejects.

The council will then vote to adopt the UPR outcome report.

Many of the recommendations were put forward by governments hostile to or critical of the U.S. Among them:

-- Libya said the U.S. must make accountable those responsible for gross violations of human rights in American prisons and prisons under U.S. jurisdiction outside its territory. Victims should be compensated.

Muammar Gaddafi’s government also expressed concern about racial discrimination and intolerance against people of Muslim, Arab, African and Latin American origin, and advised the U.S. to end racial discrimination in the housing, education, health care, social security and labor sectors.

-- Iran said the U.S. should put “gross violators of human rights” and “war criminals” on trial at join the International Criminal Court. The U.S. should invite U.N. experts to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and “secret prisons” elsewhere.

Iran also said the U.S. should adopt legislation against “Islamophobia” and insults against Islam and the Qur’an.

-- Cuba’s communist government said the U.S. must prosecute those responsible for torture, extrajudicial executions and other violations at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

-- North Korea urged the U.S. ban torture and punish law enforcement officials who use brutal and excessive force, and to lift sanctions “unilaterally and coercively imposed upon other countries,” and to scrap the North Korea Human Rights Act. (Signed into law by President Bush in 2004, the law aims to help North Korean refugees and pressure the Stalinist regime to improve its rights record.)

-- China said the U.S. must shut down Guantanamo and repatriate detainees to their countries of origin (The U.S. has angered Beijing by finding third countries willing to take in Guantanamo Uighurs, Muslims from China’s far-western Xinjiang region.)

Other recommendations included tackling climate change (Venezuela, Nicaragua); ending the embargo of Cuba (Bolivia, Nicaragua, Sudan); including the U.S. in the annual State Department report on human rights around the world (Algeria); and suspending or scrapping the death penalty (Russia and multiple others).

Venezuela called for a “fair” U.S. immigration policy and Ecuador stated that the U.S. government should repeal and not enforce “discriminatory and racial laws” such as Arizona’s S.B. 1070.

‘Committed to comprehensive immigration reform’

After last November’s UPR session, State Department legal advisor Harold Hongju Koh said that initial assessment found the recommendations fell basically into three categories.

“Many of the recommendations fit well with the Obama administration’s existing approach to human rights, and can be implemented in due course,” he told a press conference in Geneva on Nov. 5.

(One such step was seen on Monday, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the administration would seek Senate ratification of an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions, relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts. At least five countries recommended this during the UPR.)

Koh said another set of recommendations “invite fuller discussion within our government and with our own civil society.”

And “several recommendations are plainly intended as political provocations, and cannot be taken seriously,” he said. Rather than bona fide recommendations, they were “actually political criticisms of U.S. policies.” All would be looked into, however.

“Because we take this process seriously, we now plan to conduct a considered, interagency examination of all 228 recommendations, and to give our formal response at the March 2011 council session,” Koh said.

One UPR recommendation that the U.S. delegation will not contest or ignore is the one relating to the Arizona immigration law.

“With respect to immigration, the United States is committed to addressing concerns about detention, discrimination, and racial and ethnic profiling,” Koh said at the press conference. “We are committed to advancing comprehensive immigration reform as an alternative to piecemeal state and local measures.”

The administration prompted a furor when it emerged last summer that it had included a reference to the state law in a comprehensive report it had compiled ahead of the November UPR session.

“A recent Arizona law, S.B. 1070, has generated significant attention and debate at home and around the world,” the report stated. “The issue is being addressed in a court action that argues that the federal government has the authority to set and enforce immigration law. That action is ongoing; parts of the law are currently enjoined.”

The document went on to pledge that “President Obama remains firmly committed to fixing our broken immigration system …”

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in a letter to Clinton called the inclusion of the reference to S.B. 1070 in the report “offensive.”

After the Justice Department challenged the state law – arguing that immigration enforcement is a federal prerogative – a U.S. District Court judge put key provisions on hold. Arizona appealed and the case is currently awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.