Live from Geneva: The United States Takes Center Stage

There may be a few reasons the world’s eyes are on the United States in recent days, but for three and a half hours on Monday, those eyes will be focusing not on election results, recounts, or infection rates, but on our country’s human rights record.

From 7:30 to 11:00 a.m. (CST) on Monday, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva to hold its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States. Read more about the process here.

The U.S. Government is sending a delegation to Geneva headed up by Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Robert A. Destro. Destro and colleagues will describe the status of human rights in the country and any progress the country has made in implementing recommendations it accepted from the last UPR in 2015. The State Department recently submitted its own national report to inform the UPR process.

The national report presents the current administration’s views on pressing human rights concerns. For example, responding to 2015 UPR recommendations to address police profiling, excessive use of force, and systemic racism in law enforcement, the report asserts:

As part of the UPR’s peer-review process, 120 countries have signed up to take the floor and offer their praise, criticisms, and recommendations for how the United States can better uphold its obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. Due to time constraints, each country will have just 55 seconds to provide its input. Slovakia will kick off the “interactive dialogue” on Monday and then the countries will proceed alphabetically, wrapping up with Singapore.

Ten countries have submitted advance questions for the U.S. delegation on topics ranging from LGBTI rights to the controversial Commission on Unalienable Rights to immigration detention and police violence.

For this UPR of the United States, The Advocates submitted reports to the Human Rights Council addressing three critical human rights issues – asylum, labor trafficking, and the death penalty. Separately, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, The Advocates made a detailed statement to the Council about the urgent need to dismantle the systemic racism that both fuels police violence in the US and leads to impunity for law enforcement officers who commit such violence. We’ve been busy engaging in electronic lobbying and holding online events to encourage countries to take up our issues during their brief statements.

Sadly, there have been significant adverse developments in all of the areas addressed by our submissions since the last UPR of the United States in 2015, and it is more important than ever for the international community to use its influence to pressure the US for change.

The federal government will have until March 2021 to decide whether to accept each recommendation it receives. Accepted recommendations set the stage for civil society to pressure the government toward implementation before the next UPR in 2025.