This page summarizes cases raised with the United States of America by the Special Rapporteur between May 1, 2011, (when the Special Rapporteur took up his functions) and February 28, 2017 (the date of the last public release of communications). Communications are released to the public once per year. This page also contains observations on these communications and on responses received from the United States.
Communications and observations are divided into sections based upon which observation report they originally appeared.
Each communication is referenced as urgent appeal (UA), allegation letter (AL), joint urgent appeal (JUA) and joint allegation letter (JAL) – the hyperlinks lead to these documents. This is followed by the date the communication was issued, as well as the case number and the State reply (also hyperlinked if available).
Summaries and communications are published only in the language of submission (in the case of the United States, English).
The Special Rapporteur regrets that no reply has been received from the Government of the United States of America to the urgent appeals sent during the reporting period. He considers responses to his communication as an important part of the cooperation of Governments with his mandate, and urges the authorities to provide as soon as possible detailed responses to all the concerns raised in these communications.
With regard to the allegations of excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, the Special Rapporteur urges the authorities to actively seek alternative solutions to the use of force during peaceful demonstrations. He further recommends a thorough and independent investigation regarding any allegation of excessive use of force during peaceful demonstrations; to hold accountable those responsible; and to provide full redress to victims. Moreover, the Special Rapporteur recalls that the State has a positive obligation to respect the rights of peaceful protesters against any disruptive or provocative act.
In terms of the allegations of judicial and other acts of harassment against an activist, the Special Rapporteur recommends to the Government to ensure the maintenance of an environment that is enabling and safe and to ensure that those exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are not subjected to any acts of harassment or intimidation in relation to the exercise of their fundamental freedoms.
The Special Rapporteur regrets that the Government of the United States of America did not respond to any of his communications sent since the beginning of his tenure. He considers responses to his communications as an important part of the cooperation of Governments with his mandate, and urges the authorities to provide detailed answers to all the concerns raised in the communications.
The Special Rapporteur reiterates his concerns that the arson attack against the offices of WWAV forms part of a continued and escalated campaign of violence against sexual and reproductive rights defenders in the United States, in particular those persons and organizations which oppose the impact of legislation, and other measures, on the enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including access to adequate sexual and reproductive healthcare services. He urges the authorities to fully investigate the aforementioned arson attack and bring the perpetrator(s) to justice. He further urges the authorities to put in place an enabling and safe environment for sexual and reproductive rights defenders in the United States.
Responses to communications
The Special Rapporteur expresses his thanks to the Government of the United States for its reply to two communications sent during the period under consideration. He regrets that one communication did not receive a reply to date and he recalls that responses to his communications are an important part of the cooperation of Governments with his mandate, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 24/5 (2013), 21/16 (2012) and 15/21 (2010).
Right to peaceful protest in the context of economic, social and cultural rights
In relation to the reported arrest of peaceful protestors by the Detroit Police Department for allegedly preventing Homrich Wrecking Inc, a contractor of the City of Detroit Water and Sewer Department, from restoring water service to residential consumers, the Special Rapporteur looks forward to receiving the report on the final disposition of charges against the protestors, as soon as possible. He notes the Government’s response indicating that the Detroit Police Department reportedly informed protestors of the procedures for conducting a lawful protest. However, he reaffirms that while assemblies can be subject to certain restrictions, which are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, as stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights there should continuously be a presumption in favour of holding peaceful assemblies.
Draft Resolution to amend the rules of the House of Representatives relating to funding disclosures
The Special Rapporteur reiterates his concerns regarding the alleged submission of a resolution to the second session of the 113th Congress, on 15 September 2014, to amend a clause in the Rules of the House of Representatives to require witnesses that appear in a non-government capacity to also include a disclosure of the amount and source of any money received from foreign Governments. He recalls that civil society actors have been facing increased scrutiny and undue restrictions in relation to funding they received and that the requirement to reveal foreign funding sources could stigmatize civil society organizations and human rights defenders, as well as deter them from seeking resources to undertake their activities. The Special Rapporteur reminds the Government of its obligation to ensure that civil society, including human rights defenders, in the United States can carry out their legitimate work free from undue restrictions.
Mass assemblies in response to high profile events
In the case of the mass demonstrations that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the killing of Mr. Brown, which were allegedly met with excessive use of force and acts of intimidation against protestors, the Special Rapporteur stressed that the State has a positive obligation to actively protect peaceful assemblies and to ensure, in particular, that all individuals belonging to groups most at risk, including racial and ethnic minorites, have the ability to exercise effectively their right. This obligation includes the protection of participants of peaceful assemblies from individuals or groups of individuals who aim at disrupting or dispersing such assemblies. He also recalls the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee that called upon the United States of America to “(a) Step up its efforts to prevent the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers by ensuring compliance with the 1990 Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials; (b) Ensure that the new CBP directive on the use of deadly force is applied and enforced in practice; and (c) Improve reporting of violations involving the excessive use of force and ensure that reported cases of excessive use of force are effectively investigated; that alleged perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions; that investigations are re-opened when new evidence becomes available; and that victims or their families are provided with adequate compensation (CCPR/C/USA/CO/4, paragraph 11).
He notes with appreciation the creation of a voluntary initiative (a Collaborative Reform Initiative with the St. Louis County Police Department – SLCPD) to undertake a voluntary assessment of the handling of mass demonstrations as well as other inquiries. He further awaits the results of the several different investigations and legal actions mentioned in this case, particularly in view of the decision of St. Louis County grand jury to not bring to trial the case of Michael Brown. The Special Rapporteur repeats his serious concern over the allegations of excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators and various acts of intimidation, including arbitrary arrests, against protestors exercising the rights to expression and assembly and journalists covering the demonstrations. In all contexts, he urges the police to facilitate the right of protestors to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from the use of excessive force against individuals, including journalists, exercising their rights. The Special Rapporteur recalls Human Rights Council resolution 25/38 which further urges States to avoid using force during peaceful protests and to safeguard that no one is subject to excessive or indiscriminate use of force, where the use of force is absolutely necessary. Moreover, he calls on the State to take all necessary steps to secure the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly as per article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Special Rapporteur reminds the Government of his willingness to undertake a country visit to the United States, as indicated in his last letter on 2 April 2015. He trusts that such a visit would allow him to examine first-hand issues relating to his mandate, identify good practices and formulate pertinent recommendations to relevant stakeholders. He views that such a visit would be a timely opportunity to engage with the relevant authorities over the management of peaceful assemblies and contribute to the provision of technical assistance or advisory services. He looks forward to receiving a positive reply at the earliest possible opportunity. He reiterates that Human Rights Council resolution 15/21, which established his mandate, and 24/5, which renewed it for an additional period of three years, both urge the States to consider favourably his requests for visits.
Responses to communications
The Special Rapporteur thanks the Government of the United States for its replies to communications USA 14/2016 and USA 3/2017. However, he regrets that the authorities have not replied to communication USA 7/2016 and urges them to provide a detailed response to the questions raised in his letter, in conformity with Human Rights Council resolutions 24/5 (2013), 21/16 (2012) and 15/21 (2010).
Environment in which these rights are exercised
With regard to allegations raised in communications USA 7/2016 and USA 14/2016 concerning excessive use of force by state law enforcement officials, private security companies, as well as the North Dakota National Guard, in the context of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Special Rapporteur acknowledges the Government reply received on 9 December 2016. He takes note of an ongoing investigation regarding the use of dogs by private security officers hired by the company that is constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline, Dakota Access, LLC, and of the follow-up regarding the situation by the staff of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) dispatched to the area, and considers as a positive step the fact that a dedicated telephone number and e-mail address to receive complaints was established. The Rapporteur also acknowledges the continuous communication set up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Energy Transfer Partners, and Dakota Access, LLC, leading to the decision by the Army Corps to consider any modification to the pipeline route that may be proposed by the permit applicant. The Rapporteur also takes note of the United States’ commitment to the right to lawful and peaceful protest activities and that credible allegations of constitutional violations by law enforcement, including uses of excessive force, will continue to be assessed pursuant to federal civil rights law.
Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur regrets that questions raised in his communications were not addressed by the authorities. He reiterates his concerns expressed in both communications and press releases issued on 23 September 2016 and 15 November 2016, particularly with regard to the excessive use of force by security forces during protests, as well as the arbitrary detentions of more than 400 individuals and human rights defenders for exercising their legitimate right to peaceful assembly. He is alarmed at the criminalization of indigenous peoples in their attempts to safeguard their fundamental freedoms and in exerting their right to be consulted and to express their opinion freely and take part in peaceful protests to protect their cultural heritage and environment. He is finally worried at the information he received about a presidential memorandum to the Secretary of the Army signed by President Donald Trump detailing the future procedures that should be adopted to expedite the approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. He reiterates the concern expressed by the Special Rapporteurs in the previous communications regarding the impact the construction of the pipeline will have on the environment and on the local indigenous communities’ lives.
He recalls that any restrictions imposed on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly must be necessary and proportionate to the aim pursued. The force should be used only on an exceptional basis, if it is strictly unavoidable, and if applied, it must be in in accordance with international human rights law, following principles of legality, precaution, necessity, proportionality and accountability (A/HRC/31/66, para 50).
In this connection, the Special Rapporteur warns against restrictions used in a manner that impairs the right to assembly and refers to the General Comment No. 31 of the Human Rights Committee on the nature of the general legal obligation imposed on States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “where such restrictions are made, States must demonstrate their necessity and only take such measures as are proportionate to the pursuance of legitimate aims in order to ensure continuous and effective protection of Covenant rights” (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.13, paragraph 6).
The Special Rapporteur thanks the United States authorities for the mission he conducted in the country from 11 to 27 July 2016. He reiterates his thanks for the excellent cooperation displayed by the US authorities in this context.
For the full reports, containing communications, replies and observations for all countries, see the following links: