State and Local Implementation of Human Rights
State and local governments play a key role in ensuring that the United States meets it human rights treaty obligations. The Institute works to strengthen human rights protections in the United States by building the capacity of state and local officials to implement human rights at the local level, and by advocating for federal support and coordination of these efforts. The Institute engages in direct outreach to state and local officials and agencies, as well as conducts federal and international advocacy on these issues.
As part of this work, the Human Rights Institute chairs the State and Local Working Group, part of the Bringing Human Rights Home Lawyers' Network, bringing together state and local government officials and advocates from across the country to develop, implement and amplify strategies to incorporate human rights into local law, policy and practice.
Mayors are increasingly recognizing how human rights can inform local efforts. In Dember of 2015, Birmingham Mayor William Bell described how human rights shape his city's vision for the future in U.S. Mayor. In 2014, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy similarly emphasized the role of human rights in city governance in Crafting Innovative Anti-discrimination Policy Using Human Rights, which highlights initiatives related to the Race Convention and the Women's Convention in particular.
State and local legislatures are also recognizing the value of framing local concerns through a human rights lens. For example, since 2011, a number of local jurisdictions have declared freedom from domestic violence as a human right. While they vary in scope and content, these resolutions highlight both the local and international aspects of domestic violence. HRI has drawn from the human rights framework and these resolutions in testimony before the New York City Council regarding housing protections for survivors of domestic violence.
Federal & International Engagement
The Human Rights Institute advocates for federal support for state and local human rights implementation. In these efforts, the Institute has developed a strong partnership with the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA). Our recent advocacy efforts include international advocacy through participation in the U.N. human rights reviews of the United States.
Drawing on extensive research and outreach to state and local government officials, in 2013, the Human Rights Institute submitted a shadow report to the U.N. Human Rights Committee on the U.S. compliance with the ICCPR, discussing the federal government’s obligation to support and promote human rights implementation at the state and local level. The report's recommendations are reflected in the Committee's 2014 Concluding Observations. In July of 2014, the Institute submitted a similar shadow report to the U.N. Committee that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The CERD Committee likewise emphasized the need for federal support for state and local human rights education and implementation. The Institute similarly engaged in the review of U.S. compliance with the Convention Against Torture. The Human Rights Institute is raising the need for federal mechanisms to engage and support state and local actors during the second cycle of the UPR. The Institute's recommendations can be found here.
On July 22, 2014, The Institute, in conjunction with the mayoral and state and local agency signatories, sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of State Malinowski, applauding the inclusion of state and local representatives in U.S. delegations to the U.N. and offering several recommendations to strengthen human rights compliance at the state and local level, including dissemination of Concluding Observations from U.N. Treaty Bodies and more robust resources and support for state and local governments.
Resources for State & Local Governments
The Human Rights Institute has developed several reports and resources on state and local human rights implementation.
An array of legislators in cities and counties across the United States are looking to international human rights principles to guide local efforts to foster gender equity. To support these efforts, in 2017 the Institute released Gender Equity Through Human Rights: Local Efforts to Advance the Status of Women and Girls in the United States, a resource distilling key components of these initiatives and offering recommendations to enhance positive outcomes. In 2018, the Institute developed a gender equity toolkit for state and local agencies, providing a menu of concrete actions to advance CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination) locally.
Mayors are increasingly utilizing human rights strategies to address local issues, including gender equity, housing, and domestic violence. Bringing Human Rights Home: The Birmingham Mayor’s Office Human Rights Dialogue describes a range of mayoral strategies, highlighting efforts of Birmingham Mayor William Bell to convene a human rights dialogue in 2015. The report connects the themes that emerged from the dialogue with core international human rights principles and offers recommendations for mayors to integrate human rights standards and strategies into their everyday work.
A number of local governments are using human rights principles in local decision-making by employing human rights assessments. In August of 2014, we published Using Human Rights Assessments in Local Governance: A Toolkit for State and Local Human Rights and Human Relations Commissions, describing how these tools are used and the value-added of a rights-based approach to local governance.
In 2012, the Institute released Bringing Human Rights Home: How State and Local Government Can Use Human Rights to Advance Local Policy. This report, geared toward State and Local policymakers, details over a dozen ways that states, cities, and towns are integrating international human rights principles into local policy and highlights the benefits of a human rights approach. The report offers concrete recommendations to advance local policy using a human rights framework.
Building on the recommendations made to the United States through the UN Universal Periodic Review, as well during UN Treaty Body reviews of the U.S.' human rights record, the Institute has published resources for state and local agencies translating core human rights principles into guidance on ways to promote and protect human rights locally. These include a 2016 Desk Reference for State and Local Human Rights Agencies and a companion publication, the 2011 Toolkit for IAOHRA members, detailing how state and local agencies can translate recommendations made to the United States during the UPR into local policy and practice.
In 2009 we released State and Local Human Rights Agencies: Recommendations for Advancing Opportunity and Equality through an International Human Rights Framework. Focused on the valuable role of state and local agencies in human rights implementations, this report details human rights standards and strategies and describes how a number of agencies are already using human rights and offers recommendations for advancing human rights here at home.