At the Universal Periodic Review in November, the world can also cast its vote for America

by Joshua Cooper, Lecturer, University of Hawai’i, National Universal Periodic Review Task Force Co-Chair, US Human Rights Network Blog, Blog, By invitation, By invitation, Human rights institutions and mechanisms, Universal Periodic Review, UPR

Early November will be an extremely engaging experience for the United States of America, with an election that will determine the future of American democracy. Equally exhilarating, one week later, will be the opportunity the world will have to cast its vote during a 3.5 hour peer review of the US’ human rights record during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Every presidential election, the people around the planet explain how everyone on earth should be able to cast a ballot because what happens in America ripples beyond the national borders with big impacts and implications. 

In 2020, every nation can vote their approval or abhorrence for policies and practices carried out by the current US administration. For the first time in history, every nation can take the floor, within a week of the US election, and tell the government how it must guarantee human rights within its borders and beyond. 

The need for strong recommendations on the US’ dismal human rights record

On November 9, the US will participate in its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The UPR is a unique undertaking at the United Nations where member states meet together to take one another to task and offer recommendations to right the human wrongs committed in the country under consideration. When the UPR is done in partnership with directly impacted peoples, the recommendations reflect the political will of the people demanding dignity and democracy. 

Historically, the US gets a record number of recommendations during every cycle.  In 2010, the US was number one with 228 recommendations. In 2014, the US again earned gold in human rights recommendations. Considering the human rights record of the current administration, the US will again stand high on the recommendations podium and is likely to garner at least another 100 or more recommendations than in previous cycles. 

Americans are already having their say about the saddening situation regarding social justice and the weakening by this administration of universal standards of human rights at home and around the world. One strength of the human rights lens is that we can utilize our human rights to defend our democracy and not wait to lose all fundamental freedoms. As we see signs of human rights violations, we can respond with our guaranteed rights to defend our democracy.  The world should do the same at the UPR. Nearly 70 million voters cast their ballots early in the US Presidential election even under threat of bullying tactics and bullets. There are enough human rights violations already for an international intervention at the UPR. The global conscience of countries assembled under the UN Human Rights Council UPR procedure must make recommendations that uphold universal recognized rights for Americans. 

The widespread protests across the US in the summer of 2020 against systemic racism and police brutality triggered an Urgent Debate at the UN Human Rights Council. Yet, even with the global spotlight, more innocent black and brown people of color continued to be murdered by police in the US. While Americans peacefully protested exercising their human rights, the US administration unlawfully dispersed DC protestors with tear gas and even considered using a heat ray weapon to ensure a presidential bible photo opportunity. 

The new State Department Commission on Unalienable Rights produced a draft report that undermines universal norms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by creating a hierarchy of rights that prioritizes religious liberties above all else and denies women’s rights and LGBTQIA+ rights. The Commission is not a National Human Rights Institution rooted in the Paris Principles. Under the present administration the US has also been too often in step with states weakening the established world order of rule of law rooted in equality, justice and human rights. Just like Russia’s family values campaign and China’s recent controversial resolutions at the Council, the US is denying dignity and deeming segments of global civil society disposable. The new depths of deceit and depravity demand a human rights response at the UPR. 

A week ago, the US spearheaded a coalition of States to sign a ‘Geneva Consensus Declaration’ denying women rights, including rights involving family planning. Co-sponsors of this Declaration included Bahrain, Belarus, Hungary, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. The UPR is an opportunity to stand instead with the women in the US that have marched for their rights since the inauguration and the women impacted around the world by the US’ ‘Global Gag Rule.’ 

All of these examples erode equality and equity enshrined in the principles of Vienna where the world agreed ‘all human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.’ 

The climate emergency facing our earth demands a global response with recommendations at the UPR. The current US administration is attempting to withdraw from the Paris Agreement while increasing exponentially fossil fuel production and polluting our planet.  Member States can uphold human rights related to the environment and international climate commitments by including recommendations at the US UPR review by calling for adherence to existing climate agreements. 

The current COVID-19 crisis recorded all time highs in infections in many US states this week, reaching 80,000 in one day. More and more people are dying. The administration continues to put states at risk with political rallies in swing states where more disinformation is spread along with the virus. The administration submitted its UPR report very late in the middle of the global pandemic and never once mentioned it in their tardy tirade. Even more alarming is the US threatening to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) and boycotting the important global initiative to develop and deliver a vaccine equitably around our earth. We are all in this together. Countries can speak up on this topic with recommendations at the UPR recognizing economic, social and cultural rights, specifically the right to health care, housing and water. 

A call for solidarity through the UPR

The course of the US is concerning for Americans. Please stand in solidarity for the rights enshrined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Please recognize our rights enshrined in the core international human rights instruments, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The US has only ratified three of the main human rights treaties and is the only nation in the word not recognizing the CRC. 

The world always wants a vote in US Presidential elections. In 2020, the UPR allows the world to have a say one week after America goes to the polls.  Cast your vote with recommendations to help realize human rights in the United States of America. The UPR is a chance to consider the conditions in the country and its impact on global civil society. Please deliver a deliberate recommendation on November 9. 

States desiring to connect with directly impacted peoples across the country can follow weekly Human Rights Hashtag campaigns, such as #ReadMyRecommendation, #UPR2020 and #StandWithUSCivilSociety, and also request a Serpentine Session where NGOs from the ground will meet virtually in Geneva for 30 minute discussions where recommendations are shared with states. 

There will also be side events at the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on the UPR beginning the day after ballots are cast in the U.S. Please attend and listen to the voice of the people and cast a vote for human rights with strong and smart recommendations. We the peoples will do our part when casting our ballot. Americans are casting their votes for change amidst voter suppression, intimidation and fears for the survival of American democracy. 

The future of democracy and fundamental freedoms will be forged in November by people voting in the US and defending the ballot and by governments providing recommendations, at the UPR, rooted in the directly impacted peoples’ experience in the United States of America.

Human rights are our common calling to create the country and global community we desire recognizing dignity in all people. Fundamental freedoms are our common faith binding the human family together and bringing human rights home beyond borders. 

We need dialogue, deliberation and determination for our democracy. Please propose recommendations that are a vote for our common future.

We ask the world to vote on November 9 at the UPR for human rights and with we the peoples of the United States.

Featured photo: Combination of photo featured on unsplash by Tiffany Tertipes and photo featured on unsplash by Element5 Digital

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