Written by:  Joseph Navé (Law Student at Santa Clara University)

Link to Report

At the SCU International Human Rights Clinic, law students take on projects concerning real people and real human rights issues. As part of the Clinic, two other law students and myself researched, wrote, and submitted a “shadow report” to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) on human trafficking in the United States as it pertains to U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This blog post gives a brief overview of U.S. obligations under the ICCPR, the reporting process before the HRC, and the main issues addressed in the Clinic’s shadow report.

We are also hosting an exciting lunch event on human trafficking on September 23, 2013. Local anti-trafficking experts from the California Bay Area will share their experiences fighting human trafficking – for details, see below or click here.  All are welcome!

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The ICCPR is a legally binding treaty, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966. Ratification of the ICCPR by States therefore constitutes a binding legal obligation upon States parties (those that have ratified the treaty) to respect the civil and political rights of individuals under their jurisdiction. Rights covered by the treaty include the prohibition against forced labor and servitude. The United States ratified the ICCPR in 1992, and under Article Six of the U.S. Constitution, treaties are considered the supreme law of the land.

United Nations Human Rights Committee

The United Nations Human Rights Committee oversees compliance with the ICCPR.  The Committee consists of 18 independent human rights experts. In its supervisory capacity, the Committee conducts a review process for each State party to assess its implementation of human rights obligations under the ICCPR. State parties must report initially one year after ratification and then usually once every four years thereafter. As part of this review process, the Committee will also consider “shadow reports” from civil society to balance the State report with additional information. A shadow report may raise issues avoided by the State or provide more detail to supplement the State report. These reports are an important international advocacy tool to expose the truth of a State’s human rights practices to the Committee and the broader international community. After reviewing all reports, the Committee creates a “List of Issues” – topics to discuss with the State during the public meeting phase of the review process. The State may respond to the List of Issues with a second written report, and civil society typically submits another round of shadow reports at this stage.

The Committee will then hold a public meeting with the State during one of its sessions, held either in Geneva, Switzerland or New York City. At the meeting, State representatives present the State’s report and address questions or concerns raised by the Committee members. After the meeting, the Committee will issue “Concluding Observations,” suggestions to improve compliance that the Committee sends to the UN General Assembly and the State party concerned. Finally, the Committee will request the State to report again, normally within 12 months, to respond to the Committee’s recommendations and to highlight implementation of the Committee’s suggestions.

The United States is currently under review by the Human Rights Committee for the first time since 2006 and will participate in a public meeting before the Committee in October.  The reports submitted by the U.S. to the Committee, as well as the many shadow reports submitted by civil society organizations can be found here.

The International Human Rights Clinic’s Shadow Report on Human Trafficking

On August 23rd, 2013, the Clinic submitted a shadow report to supplement the United States’ report and its response to the Committee’s List of Issues. The Committee specifically requested the U.S. to provide additional information on its efforts to combat human trafficking. Because the Clinic has spent the past year investigating local anti-trafficking efforts in the California Bay Area, we wanted to share the information we had gathered with the Committee. The information in our shadow report derives largely from dozens of interviews with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, victim services providers, and legal aid providers who work with human trafficking victims. The shadow report, Troubling Gaps in the U.S. Response to Human Trafficking under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, focuses on three issues: 1) under-identification and investigation of labor trafficking cases, 2) inadequate attention to the link between the child welfare system and human trafficking, and 3) the need for greater federal government coordination of national, state, and local anti-trafficking efforts.

 On the first issue, the report relies upon information gathered from local law enforcement officials in the California Bay Area to show that police departments – even those with federal anti-trafficking funding – lack sufficient resources to investigate labor trafficking cases, which they characterize as more time and resource intensive than sex trafficking investigations.[1]  In its reports to the Human Rights Committee, the U.S. did not identify any concrete measures to remedy the under-identification and investigation of labor trafficking cases. The report also highlights that U.S. labor laws explicitly exclude from their protections certain categories of workers, such as farm workers and domestic workers, thereby rendering these populations uniquely vulnerable to human trafficking.[2]

On the second issue, the report raises the importance of the interconnection between the U.S. child welfare system and human trafficking. Despite strong data demonstrating that a large percentage of domestic trafficking victims have some connection to the child welfare system and that traffickers target this vulnerable population,[3] the U.S. government has not announced any plans to address the vulnerability of children in the child welfare system to trafficking. The U.S. government has also failed to address its plans to meet the unique needs of trafficking survivors who are subsequently placed in the child welfare system following their rescue.

 On the third issue, the report demonstrates that the U.S. government should promote better coordination and collaboration among local, state, and federal agencies to combat human trafficking. Local law enforcement officials reported that lack of coordination reduces their effectiveness in responding to trafficking,[4] and that traffickers evade investigation by exploiting these jurisdictional gaps.[5] Local law enforcement and service providers emphasized that the lack of sustained federal anti-trafficking funding prevents effective enforcement; they also agree that the U.S. government should develop standardized human trafficking training for all agencies that come into contact with potential trafficking victims, including immigration agencies, labor law enforcement agencies, and child welfare agencies.[6]

The Clinic shadow report presents this information to the Committee and suggests that the Committee ask the U.S. government detailed questions about its failure to investigate labor trafficking cases, address the linkage between the child welfare system and trafficking, and provide adequate national coordination of anti-trafficking efforts. It concludes by providing the Committee with suggested recommendations that would push the U.S. to improve its efforts to fight this terrible human rights abuse here at home.

National Day of Action for ICCPR

On September 23, 2013, as part of a national day of action to spread awareness of the rights protected by the ICCPR, Santa Clara will host an event on human trafficking in the Bay Area. The lunchtime event will take place from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in room 135 of Bannan Hall. A panel of local human trafficking experts, including Professor Lynette Parker (Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center), Ruth Silver-Taube (KGACLC), Kavitha Sreeharsa (Global Freedom Center), Perla Flores (Community Solutions), and Sergeant Kyle Oki (San Jose Police Department), will share their experiences and insight on local anti-trafficking efforts. These inspiring leaders have first-hand knowledge of human trafficking and help trafficking victims on a daily basis. The event will create more awareness of human trafficking within our community and educate us all on how to identify and fight human trafficking through cross-agency collaboration. All are welcome to attend!

What’s Next…

Stay posted to learn about the success of the National Day of Action at Santa ClaraUniversity! Also, learn about our upcoming trip to Geneva, Switzerland, where law students will be attending the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s 109th Session. At this session, the U.S. government will meet with the Human Rights Committee for its review of U.S. implementation of the ICCPR.

[1] IHRC Local Law Enforcement Interviews, Names Redacted (2012) (on file with author).

[2] 29 U.S.C. §§ 213(a)(15); (b)(21) (Fair Labor Standards Act); 29 U.S.C. § 651(b) (Occupational Safety and Health Act); 29 C.F.R. § 1975.6 (Occupational Safety and Health Act regulations); 29 U.S.C. § 151-169 (National Labor Relations Act).

[3] California Child Welfare Council, Ending the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Call for Multi-System Collaboration in California, 1, 10-15 (February 2013) [hereinafter CA Child Welfare Council Report], available at http://www.youthlaw.org/fileadmin/ncyl/youthlaw/publications/Ending-CSEC-A-Call-for-Multi-System_Collaboration-in-CA.pdf

[4] IHRC Victim Service Provider Interviews, Names Redacted (2012-2013) (on file with author) [hereinafter IHRC Victim Service Interviews].

[5] IHRC Local and Federal Law Enforcement Agent Interviews, Names Redacted (2012-2013) (on file with author) [hereinafter IHRC Local/Federal Law Enforcement Interviews].

[6] IHRC Interviews with Human Trafficking Actors from all Sectors, Names Redacted (2012-2013) (on file with author) [hereinafter IHRC Interviews].