Human Rights Institute Joins Delegation at U.N. for Review of U.S. Human Rights Record

New York, March 10, 2014—Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute and students from the Human Rights Clinic will participate this week in a significant review of the United States’ human rights record at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Institute and Clinic will join a diverse delegation of civil society representatives to advocate for greater human rights accountability within the United States. The trip will culminate in the U.N. Human Rights Committee’s review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), on March 13 and 14. The United States ratified the ICCPR in 1992. The last review was in 2006. 
In Geneva, Human Rights Institute Executive Director Risa Kaufman and Associate Director JoAnn Kamuf Ward will raise concerns identified in two reports the Institute submitted to the U.N. this past fall. In addition to meeting with Human Rights Committee members, the Columbia Law School delegation will participate in a consultation hosted by the U.S. government on the eve of the review, offering constructive solutions based on the Institute’s reports.
The first report, Access to Justice: Ensuring Meaningful Access to Counsel in Civil Cases, examines access to justice in civil cases in the United States. The report highlights the fact that millions of poor and low-income individuals in the U.S. have no access to a lawyer when facing a crisis such as deportation, eviction, foreclosure, domestic violence, or loss of subsistence benefits. The report recommends federal reforms to ensure equal justice under the law. 
“Legal representation is fundamental to ensuring fair and equal access to justice, one of the core rights protected by the ICCPR,” Kaufman said. “The civil justice gap stems from a variety of factors, including the absence of a federal right to counsel in civil cases and severe funding and other restrictions placed on the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC).” 
The second report, Closing the Gap: The Federal Role in Respecting and Ensuring Human Rights at the State and Local Level, focuses on U.S. obligations to ensure that state and local governments have the guidance and support necessary to fulfill human rights in local communities. 
A number of states and localities have adopted innovative initiatives to promote equality and eliminate discrimination, in line with international human rights standards. These efforts are aimed at addressing persistent concerns including housing discrimination, employment inequality for women, and profiling on the basis of race and national origin. While encouraging, these local human rights efforts are ad hoc, patchwork, and vulnerable to elimination due to lack of sufficient federal coordination, guidance and support.  
“State and local governments are on the vanguard of human rights implementation in the U.S. Yet, without consistent federal leadership and demonstrated support for human rights compliance, the U.S. will continue to fall short of the human rights ideals it espouses on the world stage,” said Kamuf Ward, associate director of the Institute’s Human Rights in the U.S. project.
The report recommends measures the federal government should adopt to guarantee that state and local actors are equipped to promote and protect human rights.
Upon completion of the review, the U.N. Human Rights Committee will provide recommendations to the federal government to improve its compliance with the human rights standards set out in the ICCPR. The Human Rights Institute will continue to engage with the federal government and civil society to implement the Committee’s recommendations. 
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The Human Rights Institute serves as the focal point of international human rights education, scholarship and practice at Columbia Law School. The Institute’s Human Rights in the U.S. project works to promote human rights at home and ensure U.S. compliance with international human rights standards. Follow us on Twitter: @CLShumanrights