United States

The United States has a long and complicated history of involvement with human rights. On the one hand, it has played a key role in the field since the creation of the post-World War II human rights legal framework. On the other hand, the United States often claims exemption from the same standards it regularly applies to other nations. This history of exceptionalism has led many in the United States to see the country’s serious problems—such as mass incarceration, inadequate health care, or abuse of immigrants—as domestic legal or policy issues, rather than related to international human rights. However, some U.S.-based advocates have always seen their pursuit of social justice reflected in the global struggle for universal rights, and over the last few decades, the U.S. human rights movement has grown in strength and momentum.

From left: Joyce Wagner, of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Drake Logan, of Civilian-Soldier Alliance, and Clinical Instructor Deborah Popowski, at the launch of the Right to Heal Initiative, a campaign seeking U.S. accountability for human rights violations in war.

From left: Joyce Wagner, of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Drake Logan, of Civilian-Soldier Alliance, and former Clinical Instructor Deborah Popowski, at the launch of the Right to Heal Initiative, a campaign seeking U.S. accountability for human rights violations in war.

As human rights researchers and advocates based in a U.S. law school, we recognize the importance of holding the U.S. government and U.S. actors to account for human rights abuses at home or abroad. Through our clinical and academic programs, our program has engaged in U.S. human rights work on various fronts through the years, including accountability for U.S. corporations through the Alien Tort Statute and U.S. policy toward Myanmar/Burma. Most recently, we have focused on two main areas: human rights and counterterrorism and protest and assembly rights.

U.S. post-9/11 counterterrorism policies, including the wars waged under the banner of fighting terror, have been notorious, leading to arbitrary detention, torture, and unlawful killing and other abuses. In particular, the Clinic has focused attention on the role of healthcare professionals in torture, including bringing a complaint against psychologist Dr. Larry James.

In October 2014, in preparation for the UN Committee Against Torture’s review of the United States, the International Human Rights Clinic joined fellow members of the group Advocates for U.S. Torture Prosecutions in submitting a shadow report to the UN Committee. The report documents how the Obama administration is in clear violation of the law by shielding from criminal liability the senior government officials responsible for the post-9/11 US torture program, and calls for prosecution of officials at the highest levels of the chain of command.

In 2012, the International Human Rights Clinic co-founded the Protest and Assembly Rights Project, helping to create a network of human rights and U.S. civil liberties experts across the country. The Project’s first task was to investigate the response of local, state, and federal officials to the Occupy Wall Street movement in light of their international legal obligations.

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