[JURIST] The US State Department (DOS) [official website] on Monday released a report [text, PDF; press release] on human rights in the US, which was presented to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR) [official website] last week. The report was submitted in order to comply with the rules of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website], which require council members to conduct an evaluation of the human rights situation in their countries every four years. The US was elected to a seat on the UNHRC for the first time in December, after the announcing they were seeking a seat [JURIST reports] in April 2009. In the report, the DOS acknowledged the US government’s historical struggle with some human rights issues including gender and racial equality, but noted the progress made in both areas. The report credits the US system of government as being a system that promotes improvement and protects against human rights abuses. The DOS also stressed the US government’s ongoing commitment to promoting human rights:
As we look to the future, the United States stands committed to the enduring promises of protecting individual freedoms, fairness and equality before the law, and human dignity promises that reflect the inalienable rights of each person. Our commitment to the rights protected in our Constitution is matched by a parallel commitment to foster a society characterized by shared prosperity. Finally, we are committed to the idea that the values behind the domestic promises articulated in our Constitution should also guide and inform our engagement with the world.
In addition to reaffirming the US government’s commitment to human rights, the report addressed substantial steps taken by the government in specific policy areas including LGBT rights, minority rights, gender equality, international human rights obligations and immigration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] praised [press release] the Obama administration’s willingness to engage in a dialogue on human rights, but called for more concrete actions in both domestic and foreign policy. The US is scheduled to formally present the findings of the report to the UNHRC in November.
One area cited by the DOS as needing improvement was immigration [JURIST news archive]. The report specifically addressed the need for comprehensive immigration reform, as well as steps being taken by the federal government to oppose the controversial Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive]. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed a lawsuit against the law last month, and a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST reports] against several of its provisions. The DOJ argues that the Constitution and federal law “do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.” The DOJ also claims that the federal government has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters and that the enforcement of the Arizona law is counterproductive to the national immigration policy and will interfere with foreign relations with Mexico and other countries. The law has been widely criticized as unconstitutional and allegedly legalizing racial profiling. Also in July, the American Bar Association (ABA) [official website] filed an amicus curiae brief [JURIST report] in support of the DOJ lawsuit, following the submission of another amicus curiae brief [JURIST report] in support of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU. In the brief filed in support of the US, the ABA also argues that the Arizona law would interfere with law enforcement officers’ public safety functions and infringe on both citizens’ and noncitizens’ constitutional rights by placing upon them the burden of proving their citizenship.