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U.S. Joins Consensus on Human Rights in the Administration of Justice
October 6, 2015

Human rights in the Administration of Justice, Including Juvenile Justice Resolution
As delivered by Ambassador Keith Harper

The United States is pleased to join consensus on this year’s resolution on human rights in the administration of justice.  We also welcome the adoption of the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, or “the Mandela Rules,” and appreciate this resolution’s emphasis on those non-binding rules.  We thank the sponsors of this resolution for incorporating some of our suggestions into this text.

We are joining consensus despite our concern that the resolution still calls for States to comply with various principles and goals that are not obligations the United States has undertaken and are not consistent with U.S. law, federal sentencing guidelines and practice.  For example, while the resolution emphasizes the importance of the interests of the child when deciding on sentencing of a parent or primary caregiver, we focus on other factors such as public safety and the severity of the criminal activity.  The resolution also calls upon States to ensure that life imprisonment is not imposed on individuals under the age of 18 and that all decisions to deprive children of their liberty are subject to periodic review for necessity and appropriateness.  It also provides that pretrial detention must be avoided wherever possible.  These are not obligations that customary international law imposes on States or that the United States has undertaken by treaty.

The United States certainly agrees with the principle that discretionary decisions to deprive juveniles of liberty should be reasonable, necessary, and appropriate to the individual circumstances and only reached as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.  To frame these principles in mandatory terms, however, implies that they are legally required.  International law has left such matters to the discretion of competent courts or administrative authorities within the domestic legal framework of individual States.  We will therefore interpret such provisions as recommendations rather than as a reflection of obligations under international law.

Finally, the assertion that States should consider establishing an independent mechanism to monitor places of detention, including by making unannounced visits, is inconsistent with U.S. policy and practice.  We interpret the Mandela Rules’ call for external and independent monitoring of prisons to include monitoring bodies that may or may not be governmental.  We believe that accountability through monitoring can be achieved as long as the monitoring body is independent of the prison administration.