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The Trump administration's rejection of human rights in full view at the HRC

The Geneva Observer

November 13, 2020



This article was first published as part of our newsletter briefing sent out on Thursday November 12, 2020. Sign up to our newsletter to get our content the moment it's published, straight in your inbox.


© White House Photo

President-elect Biden’s stated intention to place human rights at the centre of his foreign policy programme stands in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s record both domestically and on the international stage. A poor record that was made extremely clear from reports presented during the US’ Universal Periodic Review session on Monday November 9, 2020. Since 2018, the US has not accepted any requests for invitations for official visits from the UN’s Human Rights Special Procedures and the US has not responded to many of their communications. Famously, it also withdrew from the Human Rights Council, as well as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. In April 2019 it revoked the visa of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor investigating potential war crimes by US forces and their allies in Afghanistan. More recently Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s ‘Commission on Unalienable Rights’ published a report which, according to Amnesty International, rejects “the interpretive authority of the UN and other international human rights bodies.” Indeed, according to the US’ own submission to the UPR, “No state, organization, or tribunal, including the committees that monitor implementation of treaties, has any authority to impose, change, or expand through interpretation any treaty obligation to which the United States is a party.” Several weeks ago the US also co-organized and signed the “Geneva Consensus Declaration,” which brought a coalition of countries, described by an insider as the “axis of regression,” around the table for a purported human rights declaration that specifically undermined the human rights frameworks and re-evaluated protections from discrimination for women, LGBTI persons and others. Finally, the US’ decision, as the largest bilateral donor to global health programs, to restrict foreign assistance related to abortion has also been hugely detrimental to the rights of women around the world.

These issues, amongst another raft of domestic problems were heavily criticised by many during the oral presentations and interactive dialogue at the US’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session on Monday.

The UPR is one of the most ground-breaking mechanisms of the Human Rights Council. Formally conducted by a working group within the Human Rights Council, with three Council members chosen to take point on each State’s review, it is a cooperative peer-review mechanism for the assessment and advancement of human rights. Between 40 and 50 States are reviewed each year during UPR sessions held three times a year here in Geneva. We are currently coming towards the end of the third cycle of reviews, slated to conclude in 2021 (meaning that by the end of 2021, every State will have been reviewed three times).

The UPR process involves the submission of reports from the concerned state, civil society and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). These three reports are then presented orally and are followed by an interactive dialogue (this is what happened last Monday). The working group then prepares a final report of the comments, with recommendations that can be accepted or rejected by the State. The report is then adopted by the Council and the State will report on its implementation during the next UPR cycle.

The emphasis is on State cooperation, but the process also involves the formal engagement of NGOs: one of the three basic reports is essentially a synthesis of civil society contributions, providing a crucial opportunity for civil society to express their concerns and bring attention to possibly overlooked problems. The relevant document for the US presented this session was established on the basis of 139 stakeholders’ submissions and itemised the numerous ways the US administration has damaged the international human rights system (see above).

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