UN calls out U.S. violations of civil and political rights

NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 3, 2023 – The UN Human Rights Committee today released its Concluding Observations denouncing the United States’ violations of civil and political rights, including widespread abuses in immigration detention facilities and the criminalization of lawful protesters. The report details the UN’s findings and conclusions of international law violations following its formal review last month of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a key international treaty that the U.S. is obligated to uphold.

Guided by input and evidence from civil society organizations such as Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Human Rights Committee specifically called out deplorable and deadly conditions of immigrant detention, including “overcrowding and inadequate access to food, water and medical care, leading to deaths of numerous detained persons, including children; and instances of violence, ill treatment and abuse in public and private migrant detention facilities, including sexual violence, and use of prolonged solitary confinement.” The Committee also raised concerns about the increasing “use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute peaceful protestors, including anti-racism demonstrators, environmental activists and indigenous protestors[,]” in line with evidence human rights groups had presented of the prosecution and police killing of Stop Cop City activists in Atlanta, Georgia.

The United States is obligated to abide by the ICCPR, which is one of only three international human rights treaties the country has ratified. During the two-day review in Geneva last month, UN committee members questioned U.S. government officials, including representatives from the Department of State, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security, on a broad range of issues covered under the ICCPR.

In the lead-up to the review, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights submitted reports and briefings to the UN that highlighted serious abuses of power within the U.S. immigration system and at the state and local policing level, including cruel and degrading treatment in immigration detention and violent suppression of Stop Cop City protesters in Atlanta, GA.

“The U.S. government is quick to call out repressive regimes abroad, but these findings highlight many of the same human rights violations within our own country,” said Anthony Enriquez, VP of U.S. Advocacy and Litigation at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, who participated in the review alongside RFKHR’s grassroots partners Haitian Bridge Alliance and Community Movement Builders. “The Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations show the urgent need to stop the United States’ increasingly aggressive suppression of peaceful protest, whether that’s through punishing detained immigrants who advocate for humane conditions of confinement or criminally prosecuting and even killing lawful protesters as in Atlanta’s movement to Stop Cop City.”

The report included policy recommendations to U.S. officials on how to remedy ongoing human rights violations. On immigration detention, the Committee outlined a series of minimum steps the U.S. must take to abide by treaty obligations, including ensuring access to legal aid services and language interpretation, restricting detention to a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time and improving the living conditions and treatment of people in detention to comply with minimum international standards. On the right to peaceful assembly, the Committee urged U.S. officials to ensure that excessive use of force and arbitrary arrest and detention are investigated impartially and that victims obtain full reparation, a call RFK Human Rights has sounded for an independent investigation into the police killing of Cop City protestor Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán.

About Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to realize Robert F. Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, we advocate for key human rights issues— championing change makers and pursuing strategic litigation at home and around the world. And to ensure change that lasts, we foster a social-good approach to business and investment and educate millions of students about human rights and social justice. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook: @RFKHumanRights