Human Rights Institute Report: Complying with Human Rights Treaties Can Start Close to Home

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 Washington, DC, August 31, 2009 – State and local human rights agencies can play a pivotal role in ensuring international human rights treaties are enforced, according to a new report co-authored by the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute.
The report, done in conjunction with the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies, also recommends transforming the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to include Human Rights as part of its mandate to create a better system of accountability around the United States’ domestic and international human rights obligations and to coordinate and support state and local efforts. 
“A transformed U.S. Commission on Civil and Human Rights would strengthen our country’s ability to address pressing human rights issues Americans are facing everyday, such as inequalities in access to housing, education, jobs and health care,” said Risa Kaufman, Executive Director of the Human Rights Institute. “A new commission must also provide support for work being done by state and local agencies, through dedicated staff, education and training, and funding.”
The report found that state and local human rights and human relations commissions can play a key role in ensuring human rights compliance within the U.S. There are over 150 commissions or agencies mandated by state, county and city governments to enforce human and civil rights, and to conduct research, training and public education. The report highlights ways in which state and local human rights agencies can use and have used international human rights standards and strategies to advance their work.
The report notes that as the Senate has ratified international human rights treaties it has intended for human rights treaty obligations to be implemented by state and local governments, and that treaties often address issues state and local human rights agencies already deal with, such as police brutality, housing discrimination, and freedom of religion.
“Indeed, human rights treaties … provide a set of standards that local governments should adhere to in administering their own laws and policies,” the report states.
The report was done under the auspices of the Campaign for a New Domestic Human Rights Agenda, a coalition of about 50 U.S.-based organizations formed last year to support human rights at home and abroad.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins its traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, criminal, and environmental law.