Delegation of the European Union 
to the United States

2018 EU Human Rights and Democracy country updates: United States of America

Washington DC, 17/05/2019 - 19:45, UNIQUE ID: 190517_34

Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: In 2018, the main human rights related  issues  in  the  US  included  the  death  penalty,  the  use  of  the  detention  facility  in  Guantanamo, the protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, freedom of the press, as well  as  women's  rights  and  LGBTI  rights.  The  US  continued  its  disengagement  from  human  rights multilateral fora. The  death  penalty  continued  to  be  applied  in  a  trend  mirroring  the  remarkable  lows  of  the  last  4  years,  with  25  executions  in  2018  (up  from  23  in  2017  and  20  in  2016)  and  41  new  death  sentences  (up  from  39  last  year).  The  number  of  executions  and  of  new  death  sentences  remained  therefore  historically  low.  The  State  of  Washington  became  the  20th State  to  abolish  the  death  penalty  in  October  2018,  with  its  Supreme  Court  pointing  to  the  racial  and  social  disparities  in  its  application.  The  New  Hampshire  legislature  also  passed  a  bill  abolishing  the  death  penalty,  which  the  Governor  unfortunately  vetoed.  Public  support  for  the  death  penalty  remains  steady,  at  56%,  with  for  the  first  time  fewer  than  half  of  Americans (49%) saying they believe it is fairly applied.

President  Trump  revoked  in  January  2018  the  2009  Executive  Order  on  the  closure  of  the  detention facilities at US Naval Station Guantánamo Bay. One detainee was released in May 2018 and as of 18 December 2018, 40 inmates remained in detention, including 5 cleared for release  and  26  not  charged  with  a  crime.  The  administration  has  also  pledged  to  continue  using the facility and transfer additional detainees when lawful and necessary to protect the nation.

The  administration’s  “no  tolerance”  policy  led  to  the  separation  from  their  parents  and  detention of hundreds of migrant children apprehended while illegally crossing the Southern border. Policy changes increased the length of the detention of unaccompanied children and led to the increased use of larger facilities with suboptimal conditions. A new historically-low
243 annual cap of 30,000 refugees was set (down from 45,000 last year) and is unlikely to be met given  the  delays  in  the  admission  process.  In  a  context  of  a  hardening  of  the  immigration  policy,  the  end  of  the  Deferred  Action  for  Childhood  Arrivals  policy,  targeted  restrictions  tothe  asylum  policy  and  to  the  temporary  protected  status  have  all  been  announced  but  remain challenged by several lawsuits currently limiting their impact.

Harassment   and   attacks   against   journalists   increased   in   2018,   in   an   environment   of   increased polarisation and heightened rhetoric, often critical of the media. Several incidents were recorded. Strong protections however persist in the US Constitutional order regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

On  women's  rights,  the  administration  followed-up  on  its  commitment  to  reinstate  the  so-called  Mexico-City  Policy  prohibiting  the  funding  of  foreign  NGOs  involved  in  abortion  counseling.  The  confirmation  of  an  additional  conservative  Supreme  Court  Justice,  Brett  Kavanaugh,  gave  rise  to  concerns  that  the  Supreme  Court  would  question  the  existing  jurisprudence on sexual and reproductive health and rights. The administration continued to play  a  very  visible  role  in  supporting  freedom  of  religion  and  belief,  hosting  a  Ministerial  meeting on the issue in July 2018. However, efforts from the Justice Department to promote religious  liberty  could  potentially  impact  negatively  LGBTI  access  to  healthcare  and  other  services.

Criminal justice policy and prison reform have seen unexpected progress with the adoption by Congress in December 2018 of a bipartisan bill reducing minimum sentencing guidelines, giving   prospects   of   early   release   for   some   federal   inmates,   in   particular   non-violent offenders  convicted  at  the  height  of  the  “war  on  drugs”.  The  initiative  reflects  progress  at  State  level,  with  efforts  to  reduce  the  rate  of  incarceration,  on  which  the  US  continues  to  lead worldwide.

Last  but  not  least,  2018  confirmed  the  US  disengagement  from  human  rights  fora  at  the  multilateral  level  as  the  US  announced  in  June  its  decision  to  withdraw  from  the  Human  Rights Council.

2. EU action - key focus areas: The European Union remains the most engaged international actor on the abolition of the death penalty in the United States and is steadily supported by Member States Embassies and Consulates across the country. As lethal injection remains the most  used  execution  method,  the  EU  export  ban  on  drugs  for  execution  remains  a  very  efficient instrument. However, legal challenges to the use of these drugs were unsuccessful in  several  states.  Debates  about  reinstating  old  execution  protocols  are  also  resurfacing,  as  evidenced by the two executions by electric chair which took place this year in the State of Tennessee. The EU made 7 demarches in death penalty cases (up from 6 in 2017) as well as three  interventions  to  Governors  unrelated  to  individual  cases.  In  one  case,  the  Governor  commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. For the first time, a group of 10 human rights counsellors from 7 Member States, the EU Delegation and Norway, visited Columbus, capital of  the  State  of  Ohio,  in  May  2018  to  meet  with  local  authorities,  legislators,  academia  and  NGOs  on  the  issue  of  the  death  penalty.  On  the  World  and  Europe  Day  Against  the  Death  Penalty, the EU  Delegation  co-organised  one  event  in  Washington  DC  with  the  Embassy  of  Spain.  EUDEL  supported  financially  and  logistically  one  event  in  Houston  with  a  local  organization, the German Consulate and the University of Houston Downtown, which could be  replicated  in  2019  across  the  country.  EUDEL  also  joined  several  death  penalty-related events with partner organisations and EU embassies.

On  Guantanamo,  the  EU  position  remained  unchanged  and  the  EU  continued  to  follow  the  developments, in the context of the US announcement that it would keep detention facilities open and explore the transfer of additional detainees.  On women's rights, the EU continued to  support  the  Equal  Futures  Partnership.  On  criminal  justice  reform  and  detention,   police violence  and  the  human  rights  of  LGBTI  persons,  the EU  monitored  developments  closely,  and EU Delegation staff joined the Capital Pride.

The  EU  Special  Representative  for  Human  Rights  Stavros  Lambrinidis  conducted  his  first  working  visit  with  the  Trump  administration  in  February  2018  and  had  a  wide-rangingexchange  with  the  White  House,  the  State  Department,  the  Justice  Department,  as  well  as  with  think-tanks  and  civil  society.  His  visit  was  an  opportunity  to  explore  synergies  while  conveying EU concerns on some aspects of US policy. The resumption of regular exchanges on multilateral issues and on third countries of concern at working level between the State Department and the External Action Service has been a success; however, resuming the EU-US  Human  Rights  Consultations  upon  the  (still  pending)  confirmation  of  the  US  Assistant  Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor would allow the EU to discuss all of its key areas of concern more directly with the Administration.


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