International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Submission
This month, the United Nations’ (U.N.) Human Rights Committee will begin the process for its periodic review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR requires state members to enforce a wide range of human rights and was ratified by the U.S. in 1992. While the U.S. often presents itself as a beacon for upholding human rights, past reviews have revealed that the U.S. continues to fail to meet its obligations under the ICCPR. International law, including the ICCPR, recognizes that children in conflict with the law have the right to special protection because of their youth, capacity for change, and the long term detrimental impact that adult criminal punishments can have during a crucial time in their development.
Indeed, numerous studies have repeatedly shown that brain development continues until children reach their mid-twenties and the effects of incarceration can delay development or cause long-term damage. Despite these facts, every state in the U.S. allows children to be transferred to adult courts in some manner.
The U.S. was last reviewed by the U.N. Human Rights Committee in 2014, after which the Committee urged the U.S. to ensure that juveniles are separated from adults during pretrial detention and after sentencing, and end of the practice of trying juveniles in adult court, including encouraging states that automatically exclude 16- and 17-year-olds from juvenile court jurisdiction to change their laws.
Ahead of its review by the Committee, the U.S. has agreed to receive a list of issues that will form the basis of the U.S. report to the Committee. This process helps to tailor the U.S. report on compliance issues, and it also gives civil society groups the chance to report to the Committee on areas of concern that should be further investigated in the review process. Given the Committee’s recommendations in 2014, the Campaign for Youth Justice submitted a document (which can be found here) that highlights both the progress the U.S. has made in protecting justice-involved youth since 2014 and the shortcomings that persist and put our youth at harm.
We hope to see the Committee ask the U.S. whether it plans to take steps to ensure that youth are not transferred to adult courts and to provide detailed information on its plans to fully implement recent federal reforms. We also believe the Committee should recommend that the U.S. ensure that children under 18 are not criminally tried in adult courts and are separated from adults during pretrial detention and after sentencing and encourage states to consider raising the extended age of juvenile court jurisdiction. The Committee should also recommend that the U.S. require that states track the frequency and mechanisms by which children are tried in the adult criminal justice system and develop nationwide statistical data on children in the adult system that is disaggregated by race, ethnicity, disability, gender, and sexual orientation.
We look forward to continuing to provide research and background material to the Committee as the review process moves forward, and we urge you to learn more about the review process as well.