US Finally Ratifies Human Rights Covenant

Article excerpt

MANY United States citizens have no idea that for over two decades our country refused to ratify what surely is one of the most important international human rights documents of our time. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which establishes universal standards for the protection of basic civil and political liberties, is one of three documents that comprise the "International Bill of Rights."

In 1966, the ICCPR was adopted by the United Nations, but no action was taken by this country to ratify it until October 1977, at which time I signed the Covenant and submitted it to the Senate for advice and consent as required by our Constitution. The Senate gave this consent in April 1992, and in early June, George Bush signed the instrument of ratification. On June 8, 1992, the US, one of the key players in drafting the Covenant, finally ratified this important human rights treaty.

Because of this historic action, the US removes its name from the list of pariah countries, such as China, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa, that have refused to accede to international human rights instruments. Along with the 102 other countries worldwide that have ratified or acceded to the ICCPR, our country will submit a report to the UN Human Rights Committee every five years, outlining measures taken by the US to implement the Covenant's provisions. In addition, US citizens will be able to serve on this committee, which has been meeting since 1976 to discuss the progress of countries that have ratified the Covenant. Before ratification, we were the only Western industrialized democracy absent from the committee.

Now that the US has taken this important step, however, it must not create doubts about its dedication and adherence to the Covenant by sanctimoniously picking and choosing among the provisions to which it will adhere. President Bush officially took exception to some Covenant provisions that conflict with domestic laws, including one on juvenile executions. The Bush administration wants to reserve the right to allow states to continue to execute juveniles. The only other nations that execute their young are Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. New legislation is now required to make US law conform with the Covenant and with international law on this and other points.

Ratification of the ICCPR provides an excellent opportunity for the US to strengthen civil liberty provisions in domestic legal codes and affirm that international standards, such as treaties, prevail as the law of the land. …


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