Multilateral Human Rights Treaties That Have Not Been Signed and Ratified by the U.S.

The U.S. has a proud international human rights record. A prior post looked at the 19 significant multilateral human rights treaties to which the U.S. is a party.

But this record is not perfect.

There are nine other such treaties that have been signed by the U.S., but not yet ratified, as discussed in another post.

In addition, there are at least seven other significant human rights treaties that the U.S. has not yet even signed, thereby negating the possibility of their being ratified by the U.S.[1] They are the following (with the dates they generally went into force):

  1. Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (3/23/1976);[2]
  2. Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (7/11/1991);[3]
  3. International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (7/1/2003);
  4. Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel. Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (6/22/2006);[4]
  5. International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (12/23/2010));
  6. Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture (2/28/1987); and
  7. Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (4/22/1994).

This list plus the list of treaties signed, but not yet ratified, by the U.S., show that the work of U.S. human rights advocates is not finished.

We must continue to press for U.S. signing (in seven instances) and ratification of these 16 treaties. We also must continue to investigate possible violations of all human rights treaties all around the world. We must continue to take private action (where possible) to enforce these treaties. We must continue to press for enforcement of those treaties by the U.S., by other countries around the world and by international organizations. In the meantime, we must continue our efforts to educate people and governments about these important principles and international law of human rights.


[1] See David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Joan Fitzpatrick, Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 138-39 (4th ed. LexisNexis 2009).

[2] The Optional Protocol to the ICCPR grants the U.N. Committee on Human Rights jurisdiction to consider individuals’ complaints of alleged violations of the Covenant.

[3] The Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR seeks the abolition of the death penalty.

[4] The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture establishes the Subcommittee on Prevention and a system of regular inspections of places of detention by independent observers.

Multilateral Human Rights Treaties Ratified by the U.S.

The U.S. is a party to at least 19 significant multilateral human rights treaties.[1]

Three of them have been reviewed in posts regarding their complex and lengthy U.S. ratification process: the Convention Against Torture, the Genocide Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Here is a list of the other 16 such treaties (with the dates they generally entered into force and the dates they were ratified by the U.S. or entered into force for the U.S.):

  1. Slavery Convention (3/9/1927 & 3/21/1929);
  2. Protocol Amending the Slavery Convention (12/7/1953 & 3/7/1956);
  3. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery (4/30/1957 & 12/6/1967);
  4. Abolition of Forced Labour [sic] Convention (1/17/1959 & 9/25/1992);
  5. Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour [sic] (11/17/2000 & 11/17/2000);
  6. United Nations Charter (10/24/1945 & 10/24/1945); [2]
  7. First  Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of Condition of Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  8. Second Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of Condition of Wounded and Sick and Shipwrecked in Armed Forces at Sea (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  9. Third Geneva Convention for Treatment of Prisoners of War (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  10. Fourth Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Time of War (10/21/1950 & 2/2/1956);
  11. Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (10/4/1967 & 11/1/1968);[3]
  12. Convention on the Political Rights of Women (7/7/1954 & 7/7/1976);[4]
  13. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1/4/1969 & 11/20/1994);
  14. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts) (2/12/2002 & 12/23/2002);
  15. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography) (1/18/2002 & 12/23/2002); and
  16. Charter of the Organization of American States (12/13/1951 & 12/13/1951).[5]

Merely reviewing the list of these treaties shows the variety of their subjects and the U.S. commitment to international human rights.[6]


[1] See David Weissbrodt, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Joan Fitzpatrick, Frank Newman, International Human Rights: Law, Policy, and Process at 136-38 (4th ed. LexisNexis 2009) [Weissbrodt Book].

[2] The U.N. Charter’s Preamble states that the “Peoples of the United Nations [are determined] to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” Its Article 55 requires the U.N. to promote, among other things, “universal respect for . . . human rights . . . without discrimination. . . .” Its Article 68 called for the establishment of a Commission on Human Rights. It should also be noted that in 1944 the U.S. prepared the initial plan for what became the U.N., and it included an international bill of rights. (Weissbrodt Book at 11-13.)

[3] The U.S. ratification of the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees implicitly ratified the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that generally entered into force on April 22, 1954. The substance of the two treaties was discussed in an earlier post.

[4] This Convention’s Article I states,”Women shall be entitled to vote in all elections on equal terms with men,without any discrimination.”

[5] The Charter of the OAS proclaimed “the fundamental rights of the individual without distinction as to race, nationality, creed, or sex” (Art. 3(1) and the responsibility of each state in its development to “respect the rights of the individual and the principles of universal morality” (Art. 17). The Charter also established the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights “to promote the observance and protection of human rights” and to prepare an “Inter-American convention on human rights” (Art. 106).

[6] It would be interesting to review the history of the U.S. ratification of these treaties, especially those with long periods before the U.S. became a party. I would be interested in comments by anyone who has done so or by anyone who finds errors in this summary.

Cuban Blogger Obtains Cuban Passport and Plans Trip to Latin America, North America and Europe

YoaniSanchez

From her home in Havana, Cuba, Yoani Sanchez has been courageously blogging her critical comments on many aspects of life in her country as noted in a prior post.

In January 2013, under Cuban’s new law granting Cubans increased ability to obtain passports, she received her Cuban passport. She was overjoyed by this development after she had been denied a passport 20 times over the last five years.

Upon receiving the great news that she would obtain a passport, she bravely said in her blog:

  • She intends to “continue ‘pushing the limits’ of reform, to experience first hand how far the willingness to change really goes. To transcend national frontiers I will make no concessions. If the Yoani Sánchez that I am cannot travel, I am not going to metamorphose myself into someone else to do it. Nor, once abroad, will I disguise my opinions so they will let me ‘leave again’ or to please certain ears, nor will I take refuge in silence about that for which they can refuse to let me return. I will say what I think of my country and of the absence of freedoms we Cubans suffer. No passport will function as a gag for me, no trip as bait.”
  • “These particulars clarified, I am preparing the itinerary for my stay outside of Cuba. I hope to be able to participate in numerous events that will help me grow professionally and civically, to answer questions, to clarify details of the smear campaigns that have been launched against me… and in my absence. I will visit those places that once invited me, when the will of a few wouldn’t let me come; I will navigate the Internet like one obsessed, and once again climb mountains I haven’t seen for nearly ten years. But what I am most passionate about is that I am going to meet many of you, my readers. I have the first symptoms of this anxiety; the butterflies in my stomach provoked by the proximity of the unknown, and the waking up in the middle of the night asking myself, what will you look like, sound like? And me? Will I be as you imagine me?”

On February 17th she plans a worldwide tour visiting Latin American (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico), North America (U.S. and Canada) and Europe (Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland and Germany).

I pray that there will not be any last minute move by the Cuban government to block her leaving the island. I look forward to her comments on Cuba during her visits to these countries.

Yoani, congratulations and God Speed on your journey!

Additional Reactions to U.S. Senate’s Adoption of Modest Reforms to Its Filibuster Rule

As already reported in a prior post, the U.S. Senate on January 24th adopted modest reforms to its filibuster rule, and the initial reactions were mixed. Here are some additional reactions.

The Majority and Minority Leaders

The brokers of the actual reforms–Democratic Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader–issued statements afterwards.

Senator Harry Reid
Senator Harry Reid

Senator Reid said the reforms are “steps towards ending gridlock in the Senate, and making this body a more efficient place while still respecting the rights of the minority.  Americans of all political stripes can agree that Washington is not working the way it should. We were elected to get things done for the middle class – not waste time with endless stalling tactics that cause even bills with broad bipartisan support to languish for weeks. These reforms will allow us to deal with legislation in a more timely fashion, and weaken the ability of those who seek to obstruct for obstruction’s sake”
Reid added, “If these reforms do not do enough to end the gridlock here in Washington, we will consider doing more in the future.”

Senator Mitch McConnell
Senator Mitch McConnell

McConnell, on the other hand, emphasized that the bipartisan compromise package ” avoided the nuclear option, and . . . [retained the rule] that any changes to the Standing Rules of the Senate still require 67 [two-thirds] votes.” He also expressed home “the Senate can return to the way it used to operate and that all of us will be able to participate more fully in the legislative process.”

Leaders for Stronger Reforms

Senator Jeff Merkley
Senator Jeff Merkley

Senator Jeff Merkley, one of the leaders for stronger reforms, recognized that the Senate as a whole had declared “the paralysis of the Senate is unacceptable.”   The adopted reforms, he said, “are modest, and don’t address the core problem of the secret, silent filibuster, but they do include some important elements, providing flexibility on the motion to proceed and speeding up the confirmation process on nominations.”

“If these modest steps do not end the paralysis the Senate currently suffers,” Merkley added,” many Senators are determined to revisit this debate and explore stronger remedies,” and he would keep working to that end. “We have a responsibility to address the big issues facing our country. I’ll keep working with my colleagues to achieve that goal.”

In an interview, Merkley reiterated his commitment to pressing for additional reform if nothing much changes in this session of the Congress.

Senator Tom Udall
Senator Tom Udall

The other leader for stronger reforms was Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico. He said that although the adopted reforms were “not as strong what many of us have been advocating,” they did alter “the way we deal with nominations, conference committees and motions to proceed — all things I’ve been working toward.”  Udall, therefore, was “supporting . . . [the] efforts to get a bipartisan agreement today,” but would “continue to fight for the stronger filibuster reforms my colleagues and I believe will make the Senate a more accountable institution.”

Udall also emphasized that the external infrastructure for Senate reform would continue and remain vigilant and ready to  push for more action later if necessary.

Conclusion

I hope that these limited changes will make the Senate more functional.

But I am skeptical.

For example, in this new session of Congress Republicans are delaying a Judiciary Committee hearing on the President’s nomination of a very able lawyer to be a circuit court judge. The purported justification is their demand for information about the Government’s settlement of a case in which he had a minor role.

Another example is the limited changes’ failure to alter the filibuster rule for high-level presidential appointments. This week an appellate court held that President Obama violated the Constitution by making several recess  appointments to the National Labor Board, which otherwise were subject to Senate confirmation, when the Senate was not really open for business, but rather in Potemkin Village illusions of sessions. According to the New York Times, this Republican senatorial practice and the court’s decision demonstrate how the Democrats’ “timidity” on reforming the filibuster rule “is being used against them.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Senate Adopts Modest Reform of Its Filibuster Rule

On January 24, 2013, the U.S. Senate adopted a bipartisan modest two-part reform of its filibuster rule. Both were adopted by over two-thirds of those voting and thereby complying with another part of its rules requiring a two-thirds vote to amend the rules.

Senators Reid & McConnell
Senators Reid & McConnell

This bipartisan reform package was brokered by Majority Leader, Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, and the Minority Leader, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.[1]

The Reform

The reform has two parts.

By a 78-16 vote, the Senate adopted the first part of the package. For only the two years of this session of Congress and by standing order only, the minority Republicans will have the right to make a minimum number of amendments during floor debate, but their ability to use filibusters to prevent debate on legislation will be limited. This part also will limit dilatory tactics on lower-tiered judicial and executive branch nominees.[2]

The second part of the reform package was a permanent amendment to the Senate rules to allow prompt scheduling of legislation where there is a bipartisan consensus for passage and limit stalling tactics to prevent Senate conferees from meeting with their House counterparts to resolve differences in competing bills. This part was adopted by a vote of 86-9. [3]

This bipartisan reform eliminated the possibility of the Democratic Senators using the so called “constitutional” or “nuclear” option of changing the rules by a simple majority vote.[4]

Reactions to the Reform

President Obama
President Obama

Thursday night President Obama immediately released a statement saying he was pleased the Senate had taken action to move routine measures along. He observed that in his last State of the Union address, he had “urged Congress to take steps to fix the way they do business. Specifically, I asked them to address the fact that a simple majority is no longer enough to pass anything – even routine business – through the Senate,”

The President continued, “At a time when we face critical decisions on a whole range of issues – from preventing further gun violence, to reforming our broken immigration system, to getting our fiscal house in order and creating good paying jobs – we cannot afford unnecessary obstruction.”

President Obama also noted that the reforms “are a positive step towards a fairer and more efficient system of considering district court nominees, and I urge the Senate to treat all of my judicial nominees in the same spirit.”

Washington political commentators suggest the following reasons for the adoption of these modest reform measures, rather than the “speaking filibuster” proposal led by Senators Jeff Markey and Tom Udall:

  • very few citizens care about the filibuster and its reform, and the activists who did were not effective in rallying public opinion;
  • virtually no individual senator– especially the Majority Leader Harry Reid–wants the Senate to be like the House of Representatives which operates by simple majority rule;
  • the current Majority Leader and other Democratic senators are pragmatists and realize that in the future, perhaps as early as 2015, they could be in the minority and do not want the Republican majority to ram things through by a simple majority vote;
  • the “talking filibuster” alternative option advanced by Senators Merkley and Tom Udall was seen by many as an ineffective idea; and
  • partial bipartisan reform now may lead to more reform later.
Senator Tom Harkin
Senator Tom Harkin

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa and a sponsor of one of the motions to amend the filibuster rule, on the other hand, was very disappointed in this result. He said that he previously had warned President Obama that if there were no serious reform of the filibuster rule, Obama “might as well take a four-year vacation.”

Senator Merkley, one of the leaders for the speaking filibuster proposal,  said he was “disappointed with the package but noted the ‘growing momentum’ toward Senate reforms.” He “also vowed to continue pushing filibuster reforms if the Senate returns to its clogged, unproductive state of the past two years.”

The activists for reform were equally disappointed. The leader of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said, “This is a bad decision based on fear–a decision that will ultimately hurt millions of people who would have been helped by progressive bills that the Republicans are sure to filibuster.” The political director of CREDO opined, “It looks like Senator Reid got fooled again, but sadly it’s the American people who are going to pay the price.” Another citizen reformer noted, “It changes nothing on how we move forward.” Fix the Senate Now, a coalition for reform, said it was a “missed opportunity.”


[1]  Raju & Gibson, Reid, McConnell reach Senate filibuster deal, Politico (Jan. 24, 2013); Kane, Senate leaders reach deal modifying filibuster rules, keep 60-vote hurdle, Wash. Post (Jan. 24, 2013); Slack, Obama hopeful Senate filibuster deal will pave way for meaningful action, Politico (Jan. 24, 2013); Bernstein, Why Senate reform fizzled (for now), Wash. Post (Jan. 24, 2013); Clizza, Why filibuster reform didn’t happen, Wash. Post (Jan. 24, 2013); Klein, Harry Reid:”I’m not personally, at this stage, ready to get rid of the 60-vote threshold, Wash. Post (Jan. 24, 2013); Tom Harkin: Filibuster Reform Failure Hamstrings Obama Agenda, Huff. Post (Jan. 24, 2013). The proceedings on reform of the filibuster rule are found at Cong. Rec. S247-S274 (Jan. 24, 2013).

[2] The first part of the reform was Senate Resolution 15, and its text and 76-16 roll call are found at Cong. Rec. S272 (Jan. 24, 2013).

[3] The second part of the reform was Senate Resolution 16, and its text and  86-9 roll call are found at Cong. Rec. S274 (Jan. 24, 2013).

[4] Senator Harkin’s proposal for amending the filibuster rule was defeated as was a proposed amendment to the rules offered by Senator Mike Lee (Republican of Utah). (Cong. Rec. S271 (Jan. 24, 2013).) The reform proposals offered on January 3, 2013 by Senators Tom Udall, Merkley and Lautenberg were not brought to a vote. In his remarks on the floor, Senator Carl Levin entered into the record what he described as a lengthy rebuttal of the claim that the Senate had the constitutional power to change its rules by a simple majority vote.