Harris Institute submits testimony to U.N. on gun violence in the United States

As part of its work on gun violence and human rights, the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University in St. Louis has submitted comments to the United Nations Human Rights Committee ahead of the group’s periodic review of the United States.

“To our knowledge, the Harris Institute is the only civil society submission this year to focus on the impact of the U.S. gun violence crisis on International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) rights,” said Leila Sadat, the James Carr Professor of International Criminal Law in the School of Law and director of the Harris Institute.

Leila Sadat

“We are hoping that the committee will take some of our recommendations to reduce gun violence and formally suggest them to the United States as a means to fulfill its obligation to protect the human rights of the U.S. population.”

More than 39,000 people in the U.S. were killed by firearms in 2017, making this country an extreme global outlier. In 2017, Sadat launched a new initiative on gun violence, examining U.S. government responses to gun violence in light of U.S. obligations under international human rights law.

The U.S. is required by an important global treaty that is part of the international bill of rights, the ICCPR, to protect the rights of its population, Sadat said. These include the right to life, the right to security of person, the freedoms of religion, opinion and association, and the right to be free from discrimination based on race or sex.

The U.S. takes these rights seriously abroad, publishing “country reports” that evaluate the records of other countries in upholding these rights.  It’s time, Sadat said, for the United States to take a hard look at its own record.

Every four years, the U.N. Human Rights Committee assesses the U.S. government’s progress under the ICCPR. The next review of the U.S. will begin in March.

In preparation for the review, the committee can receive the submissions of research and advocacy groups regarding the human rights record of the U.S. government, Sadat said.

“In 1995 and in 2014, the committee criticized the failure of the U.S. government to curb gun violence and recommended it adopt common sense gun control legislation, including requiring background checks and limiting access to firearms for domestic abusers,” she said.

“Our recommendations are consistent with those of gun control groups like the Giffords Center and Everytown, but the novelty of our approach is that we have framed them as legal obligations of the U.S. government, not just policy recommendations,” Sadat said.

“In other words, our takeaway is that the failure of the U.S. government to address the U.S. gun violence crisis violates international law. It is therefore the legal responsibility of the U.S. government to take measures to bring itself into compliance, including enacting common sense gun control laws to protect Americans from harm.

“The government can’t hide behind the Second Amendment as an excuse for its inaction, because the Second Amendment simply does not prevent the adoption of these common sense measures.”