The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Brenda Bowser Soder,,O -202/370-3323, C - 301/906-4460

Massimino Calls for Implementation of Human Rights Treaties Across U.S. Government

Notes U.S. Adherence will Strengthen Efforts to Advance Human Rights Abroad


Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino today called
for implementation of human rights treaties across the U.S. government,
noting that the United States must meet its own treaty obligations as
it seeks to strengthen efforts to advance human rights abroad. In testimony
before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Human Rights and
the Law, Massimino urged members of the committee to support and fund
measures that can ensure enforcement of the United States' human rights
treaty responsibilities.

"Ensuring compliance with human rights treaty obligations will
strengthen U.S. efforts to advance human rights abroad. As Secretary
Clinton said in her human rights speech at Georgetown on Monday, we
must lead by example. There is no substitute for U.S. global leadership
on human rights. Without it, the human rights agenda falters,
repressive governments operate with greater impunity, and the very
fabric of the norms enshrined in the Universal Declaration frays,"
Massimino stated. "When the United States violates these norms - or
sets them aside for expediency's sake - the global consensus erodes.
And, as President Obama said in Oslo last week, 'we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.'"

Massimino's testimony provided a framework for ensuring greater
fidelity to U.S. human rights treaty obligations. She noted that that
adherence to these standards would be significantly enhanced by three

  • An active and transparent structure within the Administration to
    evaluate implementation of these obligations and advance changes
    designed to improve compliance;
  • Robust congressional oversight of that process;
  • A strategy, based on interagency cooperation, for deploying
    U.S. experience and expertise to advance solutions to shared human
    rights problems abroad.

In addition, Massimino identified the need for an important
education agenda to correct misinformation and misunderstanding among
the various stakeholders - the different administrative agencies, state
and local governments, civil society organizations, and the media -
about the status of international human rights treaties as domestic law
and the obligation of the United States to implement and abide by them.

"The human rights treaties to which the United States is a party -
on civil and political rights, torture, and racial discrimination - are
intended to protect people 'close to home' against government abuses of
their rights. They are, under our Constitution, part of 'the supreme
law of the land.' But most Americans have never heard of them, nor have
the executive agencies that have - or ought to have - protection of
these rights as part of their mandate," Massimino stated. "Human Rights
First has long argued that all three branches of the United States
Government must understand human rights laws as part of our domestic
law, and that Congress and the Executive Branch should work together to
bring these obligations into the mainstream of the domestic agencies
with primary jurisdiction over their subject matter."

Massimino's testimony also encourage the Departments of State and
Justice, as part of their joint efforts to implement human rights
treaty obligations at home, to establish a mechanism to share abroad
U.S. best practices and expertise on strategies to guarantee civil and
political rights, including combating violent hate crime. She noted
that following passage of the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate
Crimes Prevention Act, the United States has a renewed authority to
encourage other nations to toughen their own laws and policies in
response to violent hate crime. She added that the United States can
offer technical and other forms of assistance to promote training and
sharing best practices in the areas of hate crime data collection,
investigation and prosecution of hate crime incidents, and
strengthening cooperation between local law enforcement, targeted
communities and civil society leaders.

Human Rights First noted that the Universal Periodic Review of the
United States, announced earlier this week by Secretary of State Hilary
Clinton and conducted next year, will provide an excellent opportunity
to demonstrate the commitment of the United States to uphold its
international treaty obligations and to advance a better understanding
of those obligations by domestic government agencies and the broader
public. It will also enable the United States to set the bar high for
other states in relation to how they conduct themselves in their own
reviews. Massimino stated that the review must be more than "just talk"
and should result in "concrete actions to demonstrate that the United
States is holding itself accountable to universal standards."

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.