Rights Groups Call on U.S. Agencies to Appoint Human Rights Contact

Government agencies are defying a requirement to identify who handles concerns about human rights violations.

More than two dozen civic groups groups are asking why government agencies haven’t found somebody to respond to possible human rights violations within the agencies’ areas of responsibility — as required by a 1998 executive order.

The groups sent letters to six agencies on Wednesday — the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — echoing their past request for a point of contact who can respond to violations of international human rights treaties.

The authors of the letter, including government accountability, civil rights, and consumer advocate organizations, pointed to the recent decision by the EU Court of Justice — invalidating a free-flowing data-sharing pact between the U.S. and Europe out of privacy concerns — as a reason for urgency in filling the role.

“The United States is lagging behind most of the free world with its disregard of the rights of the rest of the world,” wrote Amie Stepanovich, U.S. policy manager for Access Now, in an email to The Intercept. “It is now more important than ever for the U.S. to recognize that human rights treaties have force beyond our borders.”

President Obama himself has argued that foreigners deserve a higher standard of protection following NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures about U.S. international spying.

As the letter points out, government agencies are required by Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 13107 to appoint and publicize an officer to handle concerns or questions about human rights, including internationally.

“A first step would be implementing a mechanism for agencies to accept complaints, and they haven’t even been able to take that simple act,” wrote Stepanovich. “We call on those agencies to act now.”

Top photo: Screen grab of a letter to six government agencies regarding human rights violations. 

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