October 18, 2023, Geneva, Switzerland – Today, members of U.S. Civil Society turned their backs in silent protest of the U.S. delegation during the closing remarks given by U.S. Ambassador Michele Taylor at the end of the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s (UNHCR) review of the United States’ human rights record and its cimpliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
“You have heard over the past two days about many of the concrete ways we are meeting our obligations under the convention, and you have also heard our pledge to do more,” said Taylor as the whole room turned their backs. “I recognize that the topics raised are often painful for all of us to discuss.”
“We chose to turn our backs on the U.S. as they have turned their backs on the state repression of Black, Indigenous, people of the global majority, LGBTQIA+ human rights, and the issue of Death by Incarceration (DBI). We have been silenced and met with no legitimate answers during every interaction with the U.S. delegation. Dignitaries from other countries who inquired about human rights violations were met with the same energy. The U.S. government has shown that it will violate the human rights of anyone who dares to oppose police militarization or stand in defense of environmental protection,” said Rev. Keyanna Jones,of Community Movement Builders, the movement to Stop Cop City.
Ms. Jones was one of more than 140 members of civil society who traveled to Geneva from dozens of organizations, including many directly impacted people, to petition the UN to hold the U.S. government accountable for policies and practices that violate the treaty. The United States is obligated to abide by the ICCPR, one of only three international human rights treaties the country has ratified. Guided by input from the participating civil society members during in-person briefings and from shadow reports submitted earlier, committee members questioned the U.S. government officials on most of the fundamental human rights the groups had raised, including indigenous rights and decolonization, voting rights, freedom of expression and the crackdown on supporters of Palestinian rights, sexual and reproductive rights, trafficking, prisoners’ rights, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, the criminalization of homelessness, children’s rights, and the failure to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities in Gaza.
Those present said it was a spontaneous silent protest motivated by deep frustration and outrage over inadequate, canned responses from the U.S. delegation.
“The United States’ response referring to various policies that do nothing to advance free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous People’s was offensive and serves as further failure to acknowledge Indigenous People’s rights who are constantly erased from visibility and subjected to policies that have furthered erasure,” said Stephanie Amiotte, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming National Chapter and an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation in South Dakota.
“We are disappointed that not all of the groups were heard by the State Department, or the U.N. Committees that are supposed to be hold the U.S. accountable. How are they to hold them accountable for their human rights violations when they haven’t even heard from all of the working groups on exactly what human rights are being violated,” asked Lotus Lain with Free Speech Coalition/ DecrimSWCA/ Sex Workers & Survivors United.
Groups submitted shadow reports on many issues, including death-by-incarceration sentences, the continued colonization of U.S. territories, the metastasizing “war on terror” that is suppressing domestic social movements, the discriminatory denial of clean water to Black communities, the ongoing detention of Muslim men in Guantanamo, and the mistreatment of Black migrants. They offer a damning indictment of the U.S. government’s failure to uphold its human rights obligations.
“It is outrageous that the U.S. continues to ignore the egregious human rights violations following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Heath decision. The U.S. delegation's response to the committee's thorough questioning on abortion access was evasive and scripted at best. The committee asked detailed questions that merited direct answers, particularly on the criminalization of people who have abortions, people who help them, and people who provide them. Sadly, that did not happen this week,” said Bethany Van Kampen Saravia, Senior Legal and Policy Advisor, Ipas. “We can no longer quietly allow these human rights violations to continue. That is why we stood and turned our backs in protest and in solidarity with all of the human rights defenders who dared to have their voices heard in Geneva this week.”
For more informaiton on the Center for Constitutional Rights work on the ICCPR visit our web page here.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.