Wednesday, November 3, 2010

U.S. and Its ‘Broken’ Immigration System to Be Reviewed by U.N. Human Rights Council

The United States this week will undergo its first appraisal by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and one of the issues likely to be raised – thanks to the Obama administration – is Arizona’s new immigration law.

On Friday, representatives of HRC member states, observer countries and non-governmental organizations will evaluate the U.S. human rights record in a three-hour “interactive dialogue” at HRC headquarters in Geneva.

Known as the “universal periodic review” (UPR), the process is one every U.N. member state is expected to go through every four years.

Among the documents on the table during the evaluation will be a report by the government, presenting its assessment of the human rights situation in the U.S. Ahead of its Nov. 5 review, the State Department submitted the report to the HRC in August, and sparked a storm of controversy by including in it a reference to the Arizona legislation.

“A recent Arizona law, S.B. 1070, has generated significant attention and debate at home and around the world,” the report stated. “The issue is being addressed in a court action that argues that the federal government has the authority to set and enforce immigration law. That action is ongoing; parts of the law are currently enjoined.”

The document went on to pledge that “President Obama remains firmly committed to fixing our broken immigration system …”

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has tasked its European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ) affiliate, which participates in the UPR process as an accredited NGO, to prepare a submission asking for the Arizona law reference to be disregarded during the UPR, on the grounds that it “falls outside the realm of human rights.”

“By including the Arizona immigration law in the report, the Obama Administration undercut American sovereignty, the well-established principle of federalism, and the popular will of the people,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for ACLJ and ECLJ.

The Arizona law comes before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Monday. Brewer is appealing a lower-court ruling that put on hold key provisions of the law. A decision is not expected for weeks or months.

Among issues expected to come up during the U.S. UPR on Friday, based on U.N. documents prepared for the meeting as well as questions submitted in advance by various countries, are:

-- Stateless persons

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees wants the U.S. to provide “a pathway to permanent legal status” for people inside the country who are stateless. For those who do not qualify for legal status, it recommends that administrative reforms be made to ease the restrictions placed on them. Norway plans to ask the U.S. delegation whether there is any intention to revise “the amended immigration and asylum laws.”

-- The death penalty

A number of countries raise the death penalty issue, including the Netherlands, which asks whether the U.S. would consider abolishing or declaring a moratorium on the death penalty within federal and military jurisdictions, and if not, then to “elaborate on the challenges” preventing it from doing so.

-- Treatment of detained terror suspects

Russia asks what steps are being taken against those responsible for torturing detainees at “secret prisons” and detention facilities at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay. Russia also wants to know what is being done to provide effective remedies to “civilian victims of the ‘war on terror,’ including detainees at “secret prisons” and Bagram and Guantanamo Bay. Britain asks the U.S. to outline the steps needed to ensure the final closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

After Friday’s session, a troika of randomly-selected countries – Cameroon, France and Japan – will compile a document containing recommendations arising from the proceedings. The HRC will then “adopt” that document, at a session scheduled for Tuesday Nov. 9.

When the HRC was established in 2006 as part of a series of U.N. reforms, the UPR was held up as one of its most significant mechanisms – a means to ensure that every country, including the most egregious human rights violators, would periodically find itself in the spotlight and have to explain its policies to the rest of the international community.

In practice, however, the UPR has disappointed many human rights advocates. Countries with poor rights records, such as Iran and China, have eased through the process shrugging off criticism by Western countries and winning applause from their allies.


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