The Road to Geneva – A New Blog Series on Criminalization of Homelessness and International Law

The criminalization of homelessness is an urgent issue in the United States. In less than ten days, representatives from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (the Law Center) will travel to Geneva to ensure that the United States is held accountable to homeless individuals on the topic. In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Committee will conduct its fourth periodic review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). From now until the conclusion of committee proceedings, the Law Center will bring you a blog mini-series with a focus on how U.S. laws that criminalize homelessness violate particular articles of the ICCPR.

As required of complying states, the U.S. submitted its latest report on compliance to the HRC in December, 2011. In collaboration with the U.S. Human Rights Network, the Law Center has consistently used advocacy tools to ensure that U.S. human rights violations in conflict with the U.S. report were apparent to the HRC. The Law Center submitted its shadow report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading, during the HRC review to further demonstrate how U.S. laws target homeless individuals. For instance, local ordinances that allow police to arrest individuals for lying or sitting in public violate the protection against arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9).

Recently the Columbia, South Carolina, City Council created a plan to exile the entire homeless population from the downtown area through relocation to a remote shelter outside the city. Under the plan, homeless individuals could have faced arrest for returning to the downtown area without an appointment. Advocates, guided by the ICCPR, were able to ensure that the plan was rescinded.

ICCPR rights differ from laws recognized by U.S. courts and thus, help to fill in gaps for domestic advocates defending the human rights of homeless individuals. In our shadow report, we describe six ICCPR articles currently being violated. Each day leading up to Geneva, we will bring you analysis of a new ICCPR article and corresponding U.S. violations.

We hope that this blog series will articulate U.S. violations in ways that can help human rights advocates. The Law Center will host a webinar on World Habitat Day, Oct 7th 2013, regarding international law advocacy tools. At a recent American University Washington College of Law event, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged U.S. citizens to engage in international law to defend victims of human rights violations in the U.S. We aim to shed light on the U.S. ICCPR violations in solidarity with advocates across the country as we collectively attempt to combat cruel and degrading treatment of homeless persons here at home where our domestic laws fall short.

-Kirsten Blume, Program on Human Rights & the Global Economy Fellow

The original version of this post can be found on the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s website blog.

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