Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute Issues Recommendations for Advocates on U.N. Engagement
NEW YORK, July 6, 2015 -- A new report by the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute recommends strategies for how U.S. advocates can more effectively engage with United Nations human rights experts.
U.S. social justice advocates are increasingly engaging with U.N. experts—called special procedures—to advance their domestic work, and the special procedures have emerged as a versatile and fruitful avenue for advocacy. The independent human rights experts are appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to monitor human rights around the world, report on violations, and recommend strategies for governments and other stakeholders to improve conditions within countries.
The Human Rights Institute report, Engaging U.N. Special Procedures to Advance Human Rights at Home: A Guide for U.S. Advocates, is based on more than 40 interviews conducted by Columbia Law School graduates Sara Kayyali ’14, Nawal Maalouf ’15, Paula Mendez ’14 LL.M., and Ami Shah ’15 when they were students in the Human Rights Clinic during the 2013-14 academic year.
The student team spoke with international and domestic human rights advocates, as well as current and former special procedures mandate-holders and U.S. government officials, to explore ways in which U.S. advocates are making strong use of the U.N. special procedures.
“The report is intended as a practical guide for U.S. advocates seeking to engage with the U.N. special procedures,” said Mendez.
The report offers recommendations for how to increase the effectiveness of domestic advocacy efforts and shares successful examples. It offers an inside perspective on both the challenges and opportunities associated with the U.N. special procedures.
“U.S. advocates have become sophisticated in how they approach the U.N. special procedures mechanism and how they leverage their interactions to further social justice advocacy at home,” said Risa Kaufman, executive director of the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, and supervisor of the student clinic team. “This report shares the innovative ways in which advocates engage with the special procedures to mobilize grassroots communities, raise public awareness, exert international pressure, and engage with local, state, and national government officials around local human rights concerns.”
The report recommends that advocates carefully map how engagement with the special procedures mechanism fits into a larger international and domestic advocacy strategy prior to reaching out to the experts. It also suggests that advocates not confine themselves to formal methods of engagement with special procedures (letters, or “communications,” to governments; thematic reports; and country visits), but rather that they be creative in engaging with the experts through informal methods, as well. These informal methods can include extending invitations for academic convenings and unofficial visits. The report also explores strategies for following up on and implementing the recommendations of the special procedures.
“Follow-up is critical to ensuring that the work of the special procedures has a lasting impact,” said Maalouf.
Case studies and examples in the report explore recent visits to the U.S. by the U.N. experts on violence against women, the right to adequate housing, and the right to clean water and sanitation, as well as NGO advocacy with the experts on torture, and on extrajudicial killings.
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Founded in 1998 by the late Professor Louis Henkin, the Human Rights Institute serves as the focal point of international human rights education, scholarship practice at Columbia Law School and draws on the law school’s deep human rights tradition to support and influence human rights practice in the United States and throughout the world.
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