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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor

SUBJECT: For the First Time, State Department Asks State and Local Human Rights Agencies to Help US Comply with its Human Rights Treaty Obligations

6/7/2010  3:00:00 PM
Rachel Hamrick (202)236-1374
Roberto Bonaccorso  (206) 684-5282

For the First Time, State Department Asks State and Local Human Rights Agencies to Help US Comply with its Human Rights Treaty Obligations

The Human Rights at Home Campaign applauds the US Government's
unprecedented outreach and calls for resources for state and local agencies

Washington, DC – In an unprecedented outreach effort, the US State Department recently sent a letter to state and local human rights commissions across the country inviting them to contribute to the US government's human rights treaty reporting efforts. As a party to several core human rights treaties, the United States is obligated to report periodically on its progress in advancing the rights set forth in the treaties to the United Nations monitoring body with jurisdiction over each treaty.

The Human Rights at Home Campaign, a coalition of more than 50 U.S. based organizations calling for a strengthened commitment to human rights at home and abroad, applauds the government's recognition of the important function that state and local human rights and human relations agencies can play in ensuring broad human rights compliance within the United States. There are over 150 state and local government commissions or agencies established by state, county or city governments to promote and enforce human and civil rights, further positive race and intergroup relations, and/or to conduct research, training and public education and issue policy recommendations.  

"State and local human rights/relations organizations around the country are already using international human rights standards to promote equality, dignity, fairness and opportunity in their communities," said Leon Russell, President of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies. "Given their history, mission and expertise, state and local human relations and rights agencies are well-situated to help provide a more complete picture of how well the U.S. is doing with respect to its human rights treaty obligations."

One example of the work being done by state and local human relations and rights agencies around the country is the joint work of the Seattle Human Rights Commission and the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

"The Seattle Human Rights Commission brings a global perspective to the City of Seattle's civil and human rights work in the local arena," said Roz Solomon, chair of the commission. "Earlier this spring, our commission sponsored a panel discussion on proposed legislation that would have had a huge impact on homeless people and communities of color. We also publicized a detailed report analyzing the potential impact of the ordinance. The Human Rights Commission's actions were widely seen as having swayed the eventual outcome."

The commission receives strong support from the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR). SOCR director Julie Nelson believes that the partnership between the two organizations results in real differences in people's lives.

"SOCR can use its authority as a City department to remedy injustice, and also to work to change the system to create justice," said Nelson. "As an independent body, however, the commission can push the human rights envelope in ways that encourages government to take action. The community benefits from the existence of both institutions working together."

Despite their potential, state and local human rights agencies face serious resource constraints in fulfilling their missions and meeting their current mandates. Federal assistance in the form of dedicated staff, education and training, and funding would alleviate some of the burdens and enable state and local agencies to engage more fully with the federal government in the human rights reporting and implementation efforts. 

"In addition to federal resources, in order to effectively strengthen institutional support for human rights, federal mechanisms must be put in place to help ensure strong partnerships with state and local agencies and institutions," stated Risa E. Kaufman, executive director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, and a member of the steering committee of the Human Rights at Home Campaign. "The Human Rights at Home Campaign is calling for President Obama to issue an Executive Order creating a renewed federal Inter Agency Working Group on Human Rights, which would include as part of its mandate enhanced collaboration and coordination between federal and state and local governments with the goal of helping the US to meet its obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights for all."


Seattle Office for Civil Rights

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