International Organizations Becoming More Popular As Alternate Fora for U.S. Civil Rights Groups?

by Julian Ku

I sense there is a trend of domestically-focused US civil rights and labor groups seeking to make their case in international fora.

1) CCR announces that the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has accepted a case from a Guantanamo detainee.

2) Labor and civil rights groups have filed a complaint in the International Labour Organisation challenging Alabama’s immigration law.

3) The NAACP has brought its voter-id case to the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

These actions generally follow failures (or likely failures) to win their cases in U.S. courts.  Interestingly, none of the bodies mentioned here have any binding authority over the U.S., but that is not the point.  They can and will put some international attention on U.S. policies, and perhaps rally a little bit of domestic concern as well.  Not much concern, but perhaps just enough to make it worth the rather substantial cost and effort.

5 Responses

  1. “The NAACP has brought its voter-id case to the UN Human Rights Commission.”
    I was a bit confused about this part, since the UN Human Rights Commission was replaced by the Human Rights Council six years ago. For a moment, I thought that the NAACP may have brought its case before the Human Rights Committee, the treaty body established under the ICCPR, but then of course the USA has never ratified the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR accepting the right of individual petition. The NAACP itself also seems confused to which body it delivered its testimony: Ironically, only Fox News gets it right in the linked article. So it is the UN Human Rights Council after all.

  2. Response…
    Julian: “not much concern”??  Don’t you stand tall for human rights, human dignity among them?  If not, what values do you prefer in opposition to human dignity and other human rights? Every time we have met you seem to be such a nice person.  Petitioners will have to “win” on the merits.  It should not be troubling that ngos and victims make claims.
    Moreover, this trend that you identify is certainly not new, esp. before the Inter-American Commisson on Human Rights.  By the way, the U.S. has “lost” and “won” some cases before the IACHR and the U.S. is bound by the O.A.S. Charter, which is supplemented by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man either (1) as authoritative indicia of the human rights protected through the Charter, or (2) as customary human rights (when they are) reflected in the Declaration that are applicable as C.I.L. vis a vis the United States and as human rights law through the Charter — rather like the legal authority of what is reflected in most of the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through Articles 55(c) and 56 of the UN Charter (al la, e.g., Filartiga v. Pena-Irala (2d Cir. 1980, the U.S. Memorial before the ICJ in the case of U.S. v. Iran, etc.).

  3. “These actions generally follow failures (or likely failures) to win their cases in U.S. courts.”

    These actions generally also follow failures to achieve their policy goals through the democratic, legislative process at the State and Federal level.

    Best to you, Julian. Ordered “Taming Globalization” on Amazon today.



  4. The NAACP has been interacting on the international plane since at least the founding of the United Nations.  During Ralph Bunche’s tenure he was helping the NAACP in figuring out how to bring claims abouyt segregation to the attention of the organization and on the international plane – notwithstanding hostility in the American delegation to such a path.

    See NAACP Protest to the UN in Phylon 1947 pages 355-358 which should be available at this link

    Whether these action follow or precede is a subject of debate.  Clearly these actions in 1947 preceded the 50’s and 60’s Civil Right movement but came around the time of NAACP Legal Defense cases like Ada Sipuel v University of Oklahoma in 1948. 

    And the NAACP had been working on  these issues since the founding in 1909 so in that sense its efforts also follow.  I think the answer is more nuanced than the post suggests.

    So I think the best answer is precede, at the same time, and/or follow.


  5. Response…
    Someone who claims to have been tortured by the Executive during the admitted Bush-Cheney “program” of “coercion” and forced disappearance will either win or loose on the merits before, for example, the Inter-Am. Comm. on H.R.  Having a right is not the same thing as winning in a legislative process — otherwise, for example, we would have no constitutional rights. 
    Immagine the claim that corporations who claim rights under international law to freedom from confiscation of their property, fair and prompt compensation in case of expropriation, control of their intellectual property, freedom from excessive taxation per certain treaties, and so forth really have no rights under international law (Kiobel?) and that they are merely failures in a foreign legislative process! 

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