POLITICS

Activists turn backs on US officials as UN-backed human rights review of United States wraps up

Oct 18, 2023, 9:35 AM

GENEVA (AP) — Dozens of U.S. activists who champion LGBTQ, indigenous and reproductive rights and who campaign against discrimination turned their backs Wednesday in a silent protest against what they called insufficient U.S. government responses to their human rights concerns.

The protesters, who came from places as diverse as Guam, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and beyond, led the demonstration before the independent Human Rights Committee as U.S. Ambassador Michele Taylor wrapped up a two-day hearing on the United States. It was part of a regular human rights review for all U.N. member countries by the committee.

Six other countries including Haiti, Iran and Venezuela also were undergoing public sessions this autumn in Geneva to see how well countries are adhering to their commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — one of only a handful of international human rights treaties that the United States has ratified.

The protest came as Taylor said the U.S. commitment to the treaty was “a moral imperative at the very heart of our democracy” and her country “leads by example through our transparency, our openness and our humble approach to our own human rights challenges.”

“You have heard over the past two days about many of the concrete ways we are meeting our obligations under the convention, and you have also heard our pledge to do more,” said Taylor, who is U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council. “I recognize that the topics raised are often painful for all of us to discuss.”

Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the U.S. delegation “decided to stick to scripted, general, and often meaningless responses” to questions from the committee.

“At times it seemed that AI generated responses would have been more qualitative,” he said.

Andrea Guerrero, executive director of community group Alliance San Diego, said the U.S. responses were “deeply disappointing” and consisted of a simple reiteration, defense and justification of use-of-force standards by U.S. police.

“For that reason, we walked out of the U.S. consultations (with civil society) two days ago, and we protested today,” said Guerrero, whose group began a “Start With Dignity” campaign in southwestern states to decry law enforcement abuse, discrimination and impunity.

Some 140 activists from an array of groups traveled to Geneva for the first such review of U.S. compliance to the covenant in nine years.

Ki’I Kaho’ohanohano, a traditional midwife from Hawaii, said she came to speak to the maternal health care crisis in Hawaii and beyond, and faulted U.S. officials for having “deflected” the committee’s repeat questions.

“Stonewall — as usual,” she said, “Again we don’t have any responses, and it’s very infuriating.”

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