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We have four new laws for civil & political rights and against discrimination and police misconduct in the United States

Will you use them in your city and state?

Many state and local government officials in the U.S. know how NAFTA and GATT, and now FTAA, affect their citizens. But they have never been informed about two facts: 1) the U.S. has ratified four human rights treaties, and 2) a treaty is part of "the supreme law of the land" under the U.S. Constitution (Article VI, clause 2). That means local officials must learn what is in the treaties and must train their employees and contractors to carry out their duties under these human rights treaties.

The first human rights treaty language adopted by the U.S. is in Articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter, which entered into effect on Oct. 24, 1945. At that moment, it became the law to be enforced in your city, county, and state, and by the U.S. Government in all of its agencies.

Since that didn't happen in ANY U.S. cities or counties or states for over forty years, Meiklejohn Institute leaders adapted the language (from "the UN" to "the City of Berkeley") and proposed that the City Council make Articles 55 and 56 part of the city's laws. The City Council took this action on Aug. 16, 1990.

Berkeley Human Rights Ordinance 5985-N.S.

BE IT ORDAINED by the Council of the City of Berkeley as follows:

   Sec. 1. With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among the people of the city and region, based on respect for the principle of equal rights of people, the City of Berkeley shall promote:

   a. Higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development;

   b. Solutions of local, economic, social, health and related problems; and regional cultural and educational cooperation, and

   c. Universal respect for, and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.3

   Sec. 2. The City of Berkeley pledges to take joint and separate action in cooperation with Alameda County, Association of Bay Area Governments, the State of California and the United States Government for the achievement of the purposes set forth in Section 1, and in cooperation with the United Nations where appropriate.

Emergency Resolution on Protecting the Civil Rights of the Arab-American Community

When the U.S. became engaged in the Gulf War in 1990-91, MCLI leaders proposed that the Berkeley City Council carry out its duties under the UN Charter and other laws to protect the rights of Arab Americans, Iraqis, and anyone subject to harassment at that time. The City Council took that action in a resolution passed on February 19, 1991, as Resolution 55,765 N.S., building on the Human Rights ordinance passed earlier.

   Resolved, That the City of Berkeley hereby commends congregations, religious orders, and civil rights organizations who protect Arab-American communities from civil rights violations; and be it

   Further resolved, That the city Council and its chief administrative officers within the city, advise various boards and commissions and departments under their respective jurisdiction that the City departments shall not violate any civil rights of any persons of Arab, Iraqi, Palestinian and other Middle Eastern descent, and shall not jeopardize the safety and welfare of Arabs residing in this city, by acting in away that may cause their arrest, detention, or deportation; and be it

   Further resolved, That the city of Berkeley will continue to support and protect the human rights of Arab residents, and that the implementation of the provisions of this Resolution by employees and agencies of the City remain consistent with the City Charter, the County Charter, the United States and California Constitutions, and the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg Principles; and be it

   Further resolved, That the Clerk of the City Council is hereby directed to forward copies of this Resolution to Senators Cranston and Seymour, the California Congressional Delegation, the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the President of the United States; and be it

   Further resolved that the implementation of the provisions of the resolution by employees and agencies of the City of Berkeley remain consistent with the laws of the United States, the State of California, the City of Berkeley and the United Nations, and the City of Berkeley is not, on adopting this resolution encouraging its employees and citizens to violate any local, state, federal or international laws.

Three more human rights treaties cities are required to enforce

In addition to the commitments the U.S. Government made when it ratified the UN Charter including Articles 55 and 56, on Dec. 10, 1998, the President signed Executive Order 13107 to implement three human rights treaties recently ratified by the U.S. Senate. He also ordered the federal government to notify the states about the rights in these treaties and the need to enforce them in each state, since a treaty is part of "the supreme law of the land."

What are these three treaties?

In 1978 Pres. Carter signed the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights. In 1992 the Senate consented to its ratification by 2/3 vote. In 1966 Pres. Johnson signed the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In 1988 Pres. Reagan signed the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. In 1994 the Senate consented to the ratification of both treaties. (convention and Covenant here mean a Treaty.)

These treaties commit the U.S. and all ratifying nations:

By ratifying the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.S. Government agreed to report on its efforts

  • to ensure all the rights mentioned below plus traditional U.S. rights and liberties.
  • to respect and ensure to all within its jurisdiction ... the rights ... in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (i.e., disability or sexual orientation) (International covenant on civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) Art. 2.1)
  • to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights ... (ICCPR, Art. 3)
  • "to ensure that Every child shall have, without any discrimination .... such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor, on the part of his family, society, and the State. (ICCPR, Art. 24)
  • to recognize that The Form: Petition for Review and Brief is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State. (ICCPR Art. 23.1)
  • to honor the right to form and join trade unions [to protect workersÕ] interests. (ICCPR Art.22)
  • and not to deny "the right ... of ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities ... to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language. (ICCPR, Art. 27)

By ratifying the Race Discrimination treaty, the U.S. Government agreed to report on its efforts:

  • to ensure that all local, state and federal authorities and agencies eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms. (Convention, Art. 2.1)
  • to take effective measures to review all local, state and federal laws and amend, rescind or nullify any law that effectively creates or perpetuates racial discrimination. (Art. 2.1(c))
  • to take measures (affirmative action) to develop and protect any racial group to guarantee them the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. (Art. 2.2)
  • to eradicate all racial segregation in U.S. territories (Art. 3)
  • to declare any act of violence (hate crime) or incitement of such acts against any racial or ethnic group a punishable offence. (Art. 4)

    The treaties define racial discrimination broadly:

  • any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of ... [limiting the] exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in ... [all] field[s] of public life. (Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Art. 1.1)

By ratifying the Convention Against Torture, the U.S. Government agreed to report on its efforts:

  • to include information on the prohibition against torture and degrading treatment or punishment in the training of law enforcement, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and all involved in custody, interrogation or treatment of anyone subjected to arrest or detention. (Art. 10.1)
  • to assure that authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an illegal act has been committed in its jurisdiction. (Art. 12)
  • to ensure that anyone who alleges illegal treatment has the right to complain and have the case promptly and impartially examined by competent authorities, and to be protected against intimidation. (Art. 13)

    The treaties define torture and degrading treatment or punishment broadly:

  • "... 'torture' means any act by which severe pain ..., whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted for ... obtaining ... a confession, punishing ... for an act ... or ... coercing him ... when such pain is inflicted by ... a public official ...." (Convention Against Torture, Art. 1.)
  • The U.S. also undertook "to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment [less than] ... torture ... when ... committed by ... [such] a public official." (CAT, Art. 16.1)

NOTE: The Government did not agree to do all the things listed but did agree to report periodically to the UN Committees on what it had done and failed to do to ensure each right.

Four paths to enforcing treaty human rights

I. Getting city, county, and state governments to distribute copies of the three treaties to all government employees and contractors, and to hold training sessions on their enforcement (as new safety codes are enforced).

II. Getting city, county, and state governments to pass resolutions, ordinances or statues using the treaty language so that the language appears in all compilations of local laws.

III. Getting city, county, and state governments to make reports on its enforcement, and failure to enforce, treaty language, and submitting them to the U.S. State Department to use in the periodic reports it is required to make to the three UN committees that enforce the treaties.

IV. Shaming the U.S. Government into filing its overdue second reports with the UN committees, sending knowledgeable Government representatives to participate in the UN Committee dialogues on how to overcome obstacles to enforcing each right in each treaty.

Under these treaties, the United States government committed itself:

  • to prepare accurate, complete reports on all political and civil rights in the U.S., including not only traditional civil liberties, but also the right to be free of the threat of nuclear weapons, and not to face racial discrimination in the United States, or degrading treatment by prison officials or police misconduct in the U.S., and
  • to have the Departments of State, Labor, Justice, Defense, Women's Bureau, and others report on efforts to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to carry out these treaties and to train government officials to obey them,
  • to dialogue on these reports with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the UN Committee Against Torture, and the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, and/or NY.

Reporting by City Commissions

In 1994, the Berkeley Commission on Peace & Justice convinced the Berkeley City Council to request the Labor Commission, the Women's Commission, and Youth Commission to read the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights and to make reports to the U.S. State Department that it could use in its report to the UN Human Rights Committee.

This procedure led many citizens of Berkeley serving on these commissions to learn, for the first time, about the rights in the treaty, and about its reporting requirements. These Commissions did make reports to the U.S. State Department, which were not acknowledged or used. Portions of these reports were then included in the Issue Sheets submitted by Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute first to the State Department and later to the UN Human Rights Committee directly.

This led to greater awareness of UN law and its enforcibility in the City.

California State Bar Resolution on State Reporting to UN Committees

In 1996, building on this municipal history, MCLI suggested that the National Lawyers Guild propose a resolution to the Conference of Delegates of the State Bar of California. It was debated at its convention and was adopted. Similar statutes could be proposed in every state in the U.S.

Proposed as amendment to state civil rights act:

   (a) It is the intention of the Legislature in enacting this section to make available state and local data on the civil rights and liberties contained in the recent United States laws, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("Covenant"), April 1, 1992, 138 Congressional Record S4781-1784 (1992), June 8, 1992, 58 Federal Register 45934-45942 (Aug. 31, 1993); International Convention on the elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination ("Discrimination Convention"), 40 Congressional Record S7634 (1994) June 24, 1994, and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ("Inhuman Treatment Convention:), 13 Congressional Record S17491-2 (1990), Oct. 2, 1990.

   (b) The State of California, through the Governor and Attorney General, shall make data available on civil rights and liberties, in the State of California and in each of its cities and counties, pursuant to Articles 1-27 of the Covenant, and pursuant to Articles 1-7 of the Discrimination Convention and pursuant to Articles 1-16 of the Inhuman Treatment Convention, which data the United States State Department has requested be submitted to it for inclusion in the United States reports required to be submitted by the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Committee under Art. 40 of the Covenant, to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination under Art. 9 of the Discrimination Convention and to the Committee Against Torture under Art. 19 of the Inhuman Treatment Convention.

THIS REPORTING PROCESS UNDER THE TREATIES WORKS! Many countries (32 out of the first 38) have changed their policies after 2 meetings with the UN Committees (and noticed by the international media and the public).

Now we need your help in making the treaty system work for us! We need your input of facts on violations of rights listed in the treaties so we can notify the U.S.

Keep on keeping on

One problem with reporting is budgetary. It does take staff time to collection information from all relevant government agencies in order to make an accurate report on enforcement and failure to enforce all rights in these human rights treaties. So far, no city officials have proposed a budget item for this work, (although they have done so quickly on reports of a possible case of mad cow disease).

In Berkeley, after the 1994 reports were made, members of the City Council, their staffs, and members of City Commissions all showed their awareness of the adoption of the treaties, and feel much closer to the United Nations system and its standards.

Please keep MCLI informed of

  • your efforts to get the human rights reporting treaties adopted by your city, county, or state and
  • your efforts to get your local governments to send reports to the State Department and
  • your correspondence with the State Department, urging it to finally file the second report it owes to each of the three UN human rights committees and
  • send us information on any violations of the rights in the three treaties for use in Meiklejohn Institute's next Shadow reports.

Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, email: or FAX (510) 848-6008 or Box 673, Berkeley, CA 94701-0673

We will acknowledge that you are the source of the information unless you request otherwise.

Steps to take to file a report on a violation of human rights or peace law

  1. Figure out the specific U.S. Government agency that committed an act you are convinced is against the law.
  2. If the misconduct was by a City, County or State agency, figure out what U.S. Government agency funds or trains or otherwise relates to them and list them.

  3. Pull up the web page of the Office of Inspector General for that agency and read from the last report it made to the Congress on the issue that concerns you.
  4. Write out a complaint starting with:
    1. the date of the incident
    2. the name(s) of the person(s) or company that violated your right
    3. the title of that person and the Government agency for which that person works
    4. exactly what happened (who did what to whom)
    5. names of witnesses to the incident and how to contact them
    6. what right you feel was violated
    7. what harm was done to you: physically, emotionally, financially.
    8. what you did to try to solve the problem.
    9. the names of Government officials who failed or refused to discuss the problem with you in a constructive manner.
    10. your complete address, email and U.S. mail, and perhaps your phone number and FAX. Sign the complaint and, if appropriate and possible, get the complaint co-signed by an organization or other individuals.
  5. Send it to the OIG, by snail mail with return receipt requested, and by email, keeping a copy with the date sent. At this point, and at any point, send a copy to the media.
  6. If you are in a hurry because the misconduct is too brutal or immediate, let your Congress member know you have filed the complaint. And you can let the local Government officials also know you filed a complaint against them, if that is not going to cause further difficulty.
  7. Expect some kind of contact from the OIG of the agency required to investigate your complaint.
  8. In January and June, look for the Judiciary Committee press release on the OIG complaints it received in the past six months, check how your complaint was handled. (OIGs can lump complaints together or can decide that some complaints are "frivolous" and don't require investigation.)
  9. Regardless of the action or inaction of the OIG, and/ or the Judiciary Committee chairs, send a copy of the complaint to Meiklejohn Institute, Box 673, Berkeley, CA 93701-0673, or MCLI will include the complaint in the report it makes on enforcement of the three human rights reporting treaties.
  10. Send a copy of the complaint and the OIG action to the U.S. Secretary of State to include in the reports he is required to make to the three UN Committees that enforce the three UN human rights treaties the U.S. has ratified.
  11. Send a copy to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  12. If it is appropriate, send a copy to the UN Human Rights Committee on any human rights issue. Send a copy to the UN Committee Against Torture, and/or the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination if the complaint is on an issue of concern to them.
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