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California Assembly votes to report on human rights to U.N. committees

August 13, 2010

State Assembly passes Assembly Concurrent Resolution 129 with 52 to 11 vote

Sacramento – The California Assembly took the historic step of making California the first state to agree to publicize the text of three human rights ratified U.N. treaties and to submit the required reports to the State Department for consideration by the U.N. treaty committees. The State Assembly voted to pass ACR120, the Human Rights Reporting legislation, by a vote of 52 to 11, with 16 abstentions. The piece of legislation will now move to the state Senate.

In defending our human rights in the U.S., U.N. treaties are on our side. Once ratified, they are the law of the land in the U.S. In pursuing justice for Oscar Grant, Rev. Daniel Buford was guided by all three of the treaties that California will now report under. In combatting police oppression, so evident in arrests like this during the first Oscar Grant rebellion a week after Oscar was murdered by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, the Black community would do well to study and apply the legal protections offered by U.N. treaties. – Photo: Dave Id, IndyBay
The International Convention on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination requires the U.S. to publicize the text at the federal, state and local levels and to make periodic reports to the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination every two years on complaints of racial discrimination in every aspect of life and on progress in eliminating such discrimination.

The U.S. ratified this treat in 1994 and has issued some of the required reports, but has never publicized the text nor has it sought or included information from each state, as required. Now the California Assembly has voted to publicize and make the required reports.

The International Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment was ratified by the U.S. in 1994. It requires reporting every four years on misconduct and proper conduct by police, prison guards, human services agents and everyone in government and what steps the government is taking to correct reported problems.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires reports to the U.N. Human Rights Committee every five years on violations and enforcement, of freedom of assembly, labor union rights, rights of children, immigrants, LGBT. When the Senate passes this Assembly Concurrent Resolution 129, California will collect the information it already gathers and submit it to the State Department for submission to the U.N. Human Rights Committee.

The City of Berkeley in December 2009 voted to become the first U.S. city to make reports under these treaties. City officials now state that collecting the information for the reports has heightened concern about human rights at City Hall.

Rev. Daniel Buford, president of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute in Berkeley and director of Prophetic Justice Ministry for Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, testified before the Assembly Appropriations Committee before adoption of the resolution. He reported that he found the three treaties very helpful in working on justice in the killing of Oscar Grant by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle last year.

Attorney Ann Fagan Ginger, founder of MCLI, reports enthusiastic response when she describes the treaties to African American, Asian American, Latino and human rights organizations, students, unions and people working on health care, prison conditions, the homeless, immigrant rights, ecology and all other human rights related issues.

Background facts

Here are the facts about the law:

1. The U.S. ratified three human rights treaties adopted by the U.N. General Assembly after the president signed them and the Senate voted to ratify by a two-thirds vote. They are:

a. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), signed by President Carter in 1977 and ratified by the Senate in 1992;

b. International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), signed by President Johnson in 1966 and ratified by the Senate in 1994; and

c. International Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ICAT), signed by President Regan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate in 1994;

d. Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography, signed by President Clinton in 2000 and ratified by the Senate in 2002, an addition to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which the president has signed but the Senate has not yet ratified.

2. Each of these treaties and the protocol require the signatory nations to take certain actions. Since a treaty is the “supreme law of the land” to be enforced by state court judges under the U.S. Constitution, Article VI, clause 2, it applies to the states, and the state of California, as a state in the U.S., must participate in these actions:

a. publicize the text of the treaties;

b. see that the provisions are not violated;

c. prepare a core document describing the basic structure of the government and demographics of the population that can be submitted to each of the U.N. Committees along with the specific information required in the Periodic Reports;

d. make periodic reports at the federal and local levels to the U.N. Committees administering the treaties;

e. read, publicize and deal with the concluding observations the U.N. Committees write concerning what the U.S. should do at the federal and local levels to comply with the treaty provisions before making its next periodic report.

Report due dates

The state reports to the U.S. for inclusion in its reports to the U.N. committees should be made to meet the following U.S. deadlines:

1. Nov. 19, 2011, to U.N. Committee Against Torture

2. Nov. 20, 2011, to U.N. Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination

3. In 2012, five years after ratification of protocol, to U.N. Committee on Rights of the Child

4. Aug. 8, 2015, to U.N. Human Rights Committee that administers the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Note: Several cities, including San Francisco, have passed ordinances containing all of the relevant language in the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adding some of the provisions in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (http://www.sfgov.org/site/cosw_page.asp?id=10849). These jurisdictions and their state representatives may be more interested in supporting this statute because of their experiences.

For more information, contact Ann Ginger at (510) 848-0599 or afg@mcli.org and visit www.mcli.org.

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