Human Rights Advocates Urge Congress to Support Establishment of a National Human Rights Institution

A coalition of civil and human rights and social justice groups recently officially announced their campaign for a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in the U.S. as they briefed Congress on the recent United Nations review of the United States’ record under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

During the Congressional briefing, advocates discussed key issues of concern raised by the UN Human Rights Committee, including reproductive rights, voting rights, and criminal legal system issues. The briefing also examined strategies for improving the government’s implementation of its international human rights treaty obligations, such as through the establishment of an NHRI.

“While the U.S. has a long tradition of supporting human rights and democracy abroad, we have often failed to protect those same rights here at home,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program. “A National Human Rights Institution would be a critical step to ensure the U.S. is in line with international human rights norms and full compliance with ratified treaties. When it comes to human rights protections, the U.S. must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Congress must reestablish a strong role in implementing our own human rights obligations.”

The briefing – which was the first of Congressional briefing on human rights implementation since 2017 – included representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, and was moderated by Vanessa Griddine-Jones, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute.

“As we convene for this crucial briefing, it underscores the imperative for swift and decisive action. The establishment of a National Human Rights Institution is not just a theoretical construct; it’s a practical necessity,” said Vanessa Griddine-Jones, executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. “This briefing serves as a stark reminder of the urgency to address the glaring gaps in fulfilling our international human rights commitments. Now is the time for all to heed the call, to champion the cause of human rights, and to pave the way for a more just and equitable future for all.”

The coalition’s calls for an NHRI have been backed by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts which monitors compliance with the ICCPR. In its final report issued last November, the Committee expressed regrets regarding the lack of progress towards establishing an NHRI and recommended to create one “as a matter of priority.”

“The U.S. must at long last begin to fulfill the promises it made to its own residents, and to the world, when it ratified UN human rights treaties, including the ICCPR, decades ago,” said Lisa Borden, senior policy counsel with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the SPLC Action Fund. Congress can and should move the nation closer to that goal, both by creating a national human rights institution and by passing the legislation necessary to correct the violations highlighted by the Human Rights Committee, including the suppression of voting rights.”

While the Biden administration has called for continued dialogue around an NHRI in the U.S., concrete actions have yet to materialize. The committee’s urgent recommendations corroborate the longstanding demand from civil society groups to establish a presidential commission to explore options for creating an NHRI. Already, this demand has been echoed by several members of Congress and the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies.

“Decision-makers at all levels of government can act now to protect reproductive rights and integrate human rights standards into U.S. law and policy,” said Pilar Herrero, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Longer term, mechanisms that promote alignment between U.S. law and international human rights obligations must be built and strengthened.”

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