The UN’s “Universal Periodic Review” of US Human Rights Practices—National Security Highlights

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review released a draft of its report on the United States’ UPR. The UPR is a process during which each UN member state has the opportunity to explain what measures it has taken to meet international human rights standards and receives feedback and recommendations from other member states in a sort of “peer review” process.

While the UPR covers all human rights (including economic and social) and contains information on a wide range of topics, a number of recommendations may be of special interest to Just Security readers. We have collected and organized some key recommendations below that relate to national security law and policy.

Lethal Force, Extrajudicial Killings, and Drones (5.207–13)

A number of states submitted recommendations related to lethal force, extrajudicial executions, killings, and drone strikes, largely focused on ending “unlawful” extrajudicial killings, compensating victims, and protecting innocent civilians. The specific recommendations were:

  • “Use armed drones in line with existing international legal regimes and pay compensation to all innocent victims without discrimination” (Pakistan)
  • “Put an end to unlawful practices which violate human rights including extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detention, and close any arbitrary detention centres” (Egypt)
  • “Take legal and administrative measures to address civilian killings by the US military troops during and after its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by bringing perpetrators to justice and remedying the victims” (North Korea)
  • “Desist from extrajudicial killings such as drone strikes and ensure accountability for civilian loss of life resulting from extraterritorial counter terrorism operations” (Malaysia)
  • “Stop extrajudicial killings of citizens of the United States of America and foreigners, including those being committed with the use of remotely piloted aircraft” (Russia)
  • “Investigate and prosecute in courts the perpetrators of selective killings through the use of drones, which has costed[sic] the lives of innocent civilians outside the United States” (Ecuador)
  • “Punish those responsible for torture, drone killings, use of lethal force against African Americans and compensate the victims” (Venezuela)

Torture (5.214–17, 221, 287–91, 293)

A handful of countries made recommendations related to torture, ranging from strengthening safeguards against torture to paying compensation and prosecuting CIA officials including for acts committed outside the United States. The specific recommendations were:

  • “Strengthen safeguards against torture in all detention facilities in any territory under its jurisdiction, ensure proper and transparent investigation and prosecution of individuals responsible for all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including those documented in the unclassified Senate summary on CIA activities published in 2014 and provide redress to victims” (Czech Republic)
  • “Enact comprehensive legislation prohibiting all forms of torture and take measures to prevent all acts of torture in areas outside the national territory under its effective control” (Austria)
  • “Stops acts of torture by US Government officials, not only in its sovereign territory, but also in foreign soil” (Maldives)
  • “Prevent torture and ill-treatment in places of detention” (Azerbaijan)
  • “Respect the absolute prohibition on torture and take measures to guarantee punishment of all perpetrators” (Costa Rica)
  • “Prosecute all CIA operatives that have been held responsible for torture by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” (Pakistan)
  • “Allow an independent body to investigate allegations of torture and to end the impunity of perpetrators” (Switzerland)
  • “Prosecute and punish those responsible for torture” (Cuba)
  • “Investigate the CIA torture crimes, which stirred up indignation and denunciation among people, to disclose all information and to allow investigation by international community in this regard” (North Korea)
  • “Further ensure that all victims of torture and ill-treatment — whether still in US custody or not — obtain redress and have an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation and as full rehabilitation as possible, including medical and psychological assistance” (Denmark)
  • “Investigate torture allegations, extrajudicial executions and other violations of human rights committed in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, NAMA and BALAD camps and to subsequently close them” (Iran)
  • Also Lebanon, Switzerland, and Denmark recommended the US ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (5.43–45)

Guantánamo (5.244–55)

Ten countries — including four NATO members (France, Germany, Iceland, and Spain) — recommended the closure of Guantánamo. Two other states put forth recommendations that the US agree to an unrestricted visit to the site by the Special Rapporteur on Torture. The specific recommendations were:

  • “Close, as soon as possible, the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay and put an end to the indefinite detention of persons considered as enemy combatants” (France)
  • “Close the Guantanamo prison and release all detainees still held in Guantanamo, unless they are to be charged and tried without further delay” (Iceland)
  • “Improve living conditions in prisons in particular in Guantanamo” (Sudan)
  • “Work and do all its best in order to close down the Guantanamo facility” (Libya)
  • “Immediately close the prison in Guantanamo and cease the illegal detention of terrorism suspects at its military bases abroad” (Russia)
  • “Immediately close the Guantanamo facility” (Maldives)
  • “Close Guantanamo and secret detention centres” (Venezuela)
  • “Make further progress in fulfilling its commitment to close the Guantanamo detention facility and abide by the ban on torture and inhumane treatment of all individuals in detention” (Malaysia)
  • “Fully disclose the abuse of torture by its Intelligence Agency, ensure the accountability of the persons responsible, and agree to unrestricted visit by the Special Rapporteur on Torture to Guantanamo facilities” (China)
  • “Engage further in the common fight for the prohibition of torture, ensuring accountability and victims’ compensation and enable the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit every part of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and to conduct unmonitored interviews” (Germany)
  • “Take adequate measures to ensure the definite de-commissioning of the Guantanamo Military Prison” (Spain)
  • “End illegal detentions in Guantanamo Bay or bring the detainees to trial immediately” (Pakistan)

Surveillance and Privacy (5.298–312)

A number of countries had recommendations related to the right to privacy, with many focused on data privacy and surveillance issues and some explicitly focused on extraterritorial surveillance. Of special note with respect to states with which the US has friendly relations, Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland made the strongest and most specific recommendations for the US to tailor its surveillance programs to accord with privacy rights. The specific recommendations were:

  • “Respect international human rights obligations regarding the right to privacy when intercepting digital communications of individuals, collecting personal data or requiring disclosure of personal data from third parties” (Germany)
  • “Ensure that all surveillance policies and measures comply with international human rights law, particularly the right to privacy, regardless of the nationality or location of those affected, including through the development of effective safeguards against abuses” (Brazil)
  • “Strengthen the independent federal-level judicial and legislative oversight of surveillance activities of all digital communications with the aim of ensuring that the right of privacy is fully upheld, especially with regard to individuals outside the territorial borders of the United States” (Hungary)
  • “Review their national laws and policies in order to ensure that all surveillance of digital communications is consistent with its international human rights obligations and is conducted on the basis of a legal framework which is publicly accessible, clear, precise, comprehensive and nondiscriminatory” (Liechtenstein)
  • “Take all necessary measures to ensure an independent and effective oversight by all Government branches of the overseas surveillance operations of the National Security Agency, especially those carried out under the Executive Order 12333, and guarantee access to effective judicial and other remedies for people whose right to privacy would have been violated by the surveillance activities of the United States” (Switzerland)
  • “Provide effective legal and procedural guarantees against collection and use by security services of personal information, including abroad” (Russia)
  • “Stop massive surveillance activities both inside and outside its territory to avoid violating the right to privacy of its citizens and those of other countries” (China)
  • “Fully respect and protect the right to privacy” (Azerbaijan)
  • “Take measures against arbitrary or illegal interferences in private life and correspondence” (Costa Rica)
  • “Take adequate and effective steps to guarantee against arbitrary and unlawful acquisition of this data” (Kenya)
  • “Cease spying on communications and private data of people in the world” (Venezuela)
  • “Suspend the interception, holding and use of communications, including the surveillance and extraterritorial interception and the scope of the surveillance operations against citizens, institutions and representatives of other countries, which violate the right to privacy, international laws and the principle of State sovereignty recognized in the UN Charter” (Cuba)
  • “Respect the privacy of individuals outside the US in the context of digital communications and data” (Pakistan)
  • “Amend visa application system by removing any requirements that violate the right to privacy” (Egypt)
  • “Improve the legal basis that would ensure respect. for the privacy of individuals” (Turkey)

Other statements of importance include: Egypt called on the United States to “[a]bolish any discriminatory measures that target Muslims and Arabs at airports” (5.130); and a long list of countries, from every region of the world, called on the United States to take measures to end excessive use of force and discriminatory practices by police (5.143–63; 5.218–20; 5.222–31). 

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