The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Mr. Secretary,
We write to express our deep concern about the news reported in The Guardian on January 4, 2019, indicating that the United States may no longer be responding to formal queries from UN special rapporteurs. If true, this policy will significantly limit the United States’ influence abroad, provide repressive regimes with a convenient excuse to reject international human rights investigations, and ultimately help make the world a more lawless and dangerous place.
Though the United Nations is an imperfect body, UN special rapporteurs play an important role by examining potential rights violations and providing recommendations to address any problems they document. They serve U.S. interests by shining a light on the behavior of authoritarian regimes like Iran and China. Their credibility depends on applying the same international standards to all countries, including democracies that may have robust national oversight mechanisms of their own. In the U.S., both Democratic and Republican administrations through the years have embraced the process, recognizing its value despite its flaws and occasional redundancy. We have frequently welcomed special rapporteurs because it sets a good example and because we have been able to acknowledge shortcomings, even as we demonstrate that our democratic processes are addressing them. Moreover, U.S. refusal to cooperate with the UN system will not fix its deficiencies. As you yourself noted in your December 4 speech at the German Marshall Fund, when we “ignore our responsibilities to the institutions we’ve formed, others will abuse them.”
Halting U.S. engagement with UN special rapporteurs would set a dangerous precedent that repressive regimes are likely to copy and exploit. The eventual result could be a breakdown of the international human rights architecture that the United States helped to create as a means of strengthening American security, promoting American values, and ensuring a freer, more stable, and more prosperous world.
In the Guardian report, a U.S. spokesperson stated that the government remains “deeply committed to the promotion and defense of human rights around the globe.” But the United States cannot effectively advocate for human rights abroad if it shuts its own doors to those looking to evaluate its record.
If the Guardian report is in any way inaccurate, we respectfully urge you to correct the public record. We further respectfully urge the Department of State to cooperate with UN special rapporteurs and invite them to observe and report on human rights conditions in the United States. We would welcome an opportunity to further discuss this matter with you or members of your staff.
Amnesty International USA
Better World Campaign
Committee to Protect Journalists
Human Rights First
Reporters Without Borders