Bringing the U.S. Government Together to Improve Human Rights & Protect the Environment
About the Authors: Priya Vithani is a foreign affairs officer in the Bureau of International Organizations Affairs at the Department of State. She serves as the main point of contact for UN special procedures and works on coordinating the Universal Periodic Review Process. Sofija Korac is a foreign affairs officer in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the Department of State. She works on various aspects of engagement with the UN, including the Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly and Universal Periodic Review process.
The United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, not well known to the American public, is a unique intersection of international human rights mechanisms with national and local laws and policies. This process, under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council, asks each UN member state to report on its domestic human rights record once every five years, which provides an opportunity and a formal setting for fellow UN member states to make recommendations on how to improve human rights conditions in that state.
The UPR process is a tool that promotes respect for human rights in the United States and in countries across the globe. It encourages openness, honesty, and accountability. It is also an important way to showcase, on a multilateral front, America’s best practices, while honestly acknowledging those areas where more needs to be done.
The United States made its first UPR report in 2010, and the second in 2015, which included a section on the environment and discussed environmental justice concepts and issues. In our second review, we received 343 recommendations from our fellow UN member states, which is the largest number of recommendations received by any country in the history of the UPR mechanism. We carefully considered every recommendation and we’re proud to say we accepted, in whole or in part, over 75 percent of those recommendations.
With nearly four years to go until our next review, we are now thinking about how to move forward with implementing the recommendations we accepted across the U.S. government. This includes recommendations focusing on climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as improved farmworker safety, improved water and sanitation services, and protection of indigenous lands and sacred sites.
Since our first UPR presentation in 2010, the National Security Council has created six interagency UPR working groups organized by topic, and comprised of various agencies, including the EPA, to consider the recommendations and to implement those we have accepted. The EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, in close collaboration with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of the Interior (DOI), has focused on the recommendations relating to economic, social, and cultural rights, indigenous issues, and the environment.
On August 17, 2016, the EPA, HUD and DOI, along with a number of other federal government agencies, held a public consultation to discuss recommendations relating to these three topic areas, including environmental concerns, with civil society stakeholders. We made an extra effort to ensure that communities dealing with environmental justice issues were invited to participate in the discussion. Participants raised concerns regarding access to safe and affordable water and sanitation. During the consultation, we discussed the capacity of new technologies to provide clean drinking water as well as concerns about radioactive waste impacting drinking water, exemptions of aquifers from protection, and the removal of delegated authority from co-regulators who do not adequately perform their duties.
Representatives from the EPA discussed efforts to identify best practices for addressing these concerns. Additionally, EPA representatives indicated that the agency is seeking public input on the development of its National Action Plan on Drinking Water.
Our ability to successfully implement accepted UPR recommendations is heavily dependent upon the engagement we have with, and input that we receive from, civil society – including with those populations most vulnerable to environmental pollution and blight. Therefore, as we work with our domestic agencies to promote, respect, and protect human rights we look forward to your participation. For more information on the working groups, their membership, and future consultations, please visits www.humanrights.gov
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