The head of a United Nations body monitoring human rights took the Republican Party to task earlier this week for causing the federal government’s shutdown, leading to the United States missing an important review of its human rights standards.
The Human Rights Committee — not to be confused with the Human Rights Council — is a body of independent experts who monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty to which the United States is a member. Every four years, states are required to present a report to the panel on how they continue to implement the treaty, which guarantees basic human rights including the right to life, freedom of movement, and fair trials. The United States’ time before the committee was due to take place later this month, alongside Bolivia, Djibouti, Mozambique, Mauritania, and Uruguay.
That review has been pushed back until March 2014 at the earliest, however, as a result of the shutdown. “A request for a postponement from the USA was made on 10 October 2013 and accepted by the Committee on the same day,” an announcement on the committee’s website reads. “The USA highlights its regret at having to make such a request, which is due to the ongoing government shutdown. The Committee and the Secretariat regret the inconvenience this will cause, in particular to members of civil society who had made arrangements to attend and participate in the meetings.”
Nigel Rodley, a British human rights expert who chairs the committee, didn’t mince words about just who to blame for the delay. “The political party of Abraham Lincoln that, in fire and blood ended slavery and gave freedom to millions of people of African descent, seemed now to have party members who thought that wealth did not just rhyme with health, but should also determine access to it,” Rodley said, according to AFP reports. “To achieve its aim it had brought the government of the United States to a standstill and to the brink of defaulting on its national debt,” he added.
While ahead of many other countries in terms of human rights implementation, the review process forces the United States to answer for deficiencies it still maintains. In response to the 188-page report it submitted to the body in 2011, the United States was faced with questions regarding racism within its penal system, the use of targeted killing, and the ubiquity of “stand your ground” laws regarding the use of firearms. Civil society also uses the review process as a time to bring their concerns to the forefront, with dozens of reports submitted from groups like Amnesty International and the Center for Constitutional Rights.