A call has gone out from the International Bar Association to US President-Elect Donald Trump, to reassert his country as a leading model for championing individual liberty and human rights.
An open letter from the IBA's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), signed by co-chairs Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and retired Ambassador Hans Corell, highlights a US retreat from the rights and freedoms enshrined in the 1776 Declaration of Independence and 1791 Bill of Rights. Written to mark Human Rights Day 2016, it raises concerns over the decline of human rights in the US and outlines a number of human rights issues where the country now lags behind many other nations.
First, the USA has failed to ratify three key treaties signed by most countries in the world: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, "one of the core treaties for the protection of human rights to which there are now 164 parties"; the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, "the most widely ratified treaty in history"; and the International Covenant Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, regarding which the letter points out the US is one of "only a handful" of countries not to have ratified it, along with others that include Iran, Somalia and Sudan. The letter comments: "The missing US ratification of this treaty stands out as an extraordinary lacuna in our common effort to empower women around the world."
The USA is also not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), not having ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC. "Nearly two-thirds of the nations of the world are parties to this statute, including almost all of the United States' NATO allies", the letter states. "The ICC is the future of international criminal justice, a field which the US pioneered with the post-World War II Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. The ICC tries the three core atrocity crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, issues which are particularly important to many Americans... We urge you to promote US accession to the Rome Statute."
On torture and rendition, the letter points out that the US is party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but its treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, including alleged waterboarding, sexual abuse and forced feeding, is clearly contrary to its obligations – as is the lack of transparency by the US Government over the treatment of prisoners there.
With the USA having the fifth highest rate of executions in the world, the co-chairs also call for the restriction of the death penalty to only the most serious crimes: "allowing judicial discretion in sentencing, and expressly eliminating execution for acts done by children, would be a positive step leading to a complete prohibition. This would place the United States in the forefront of human rights defenders".
Action against continued racial and other discrimination, including transgender and sexual orientation, is also needed for the US to "truly fulfil its international obligations and promote the rule of law domestically".
The open letter results from the deliberations of a panel of experts in the arena of human rights and international lawyers brought together to consider the situation of human rights in the US, at the IBA Annual Conference in Washington DC in September.