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Professor Penny Venetis Urges U.S. to Meet Its Human Rights Treaty Obligations

December 17, 2009 – 

Penny Venetis, Clinical Professor of Law at Rutgers School of Law–Newark, has called on the United States to meet its constitutional responsibility to implement the human rights treaties that it has signed. In testimony submitted yesterday to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, Venetis called the Subcommittee hearing “historic” and praised it as “the first step towards acknowledging that the U.S. has a legal obligation to both its citizens and the world to enforce the human rights treaties that it has ratified.”

Venetis is co-director of the law school’s Constitutional Litigation Clinic, with much of her work focused on the intersection between constitutional law and international law. In 2008, the clinic was honored by the Clinical Legal Education Association for Jama, et al. v. Correctional Services Corp., et al., which set new precedent in international human rights law. The achievements of Jama, which Venetis and her students worked on for 12 years, as well as the commitment of the clinic, its faculty, students, and alums were also applauded by the New Jersey Law Journal in an editorial titled “A Tribute to Our Profession.”

In her written testimony, Venetis noted that while in the past 20 years the U.S. has ratified several international human rights treaties, it has included broad reservations, understandings and declarations (known as RUDs) that basically render the treaties unenforceable. The United Nations and other nations that are signatories to the treaties have also criticized the RUDs. She suggested to the Subcommittee that it take the following steps to implement the signed and ratified treaties:

  1. Immediately withdraw all RUDs to all human rights treaties.
  2. Draft and enact clear legislation, akin to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, to breathe life into human rights treaties.
  3. Establish a federal-level commission much like Canada’s to implement treaties on federal, state and local level of government.
  4. Provide immediate training to legislators, judges and members of the executive branch concerning the U.S.’s obligations under the human rights treaties it has ratified.

Venetis also called on the Subcommittee to make it a priority to ratify human rights treaties that the U.S. has signed but not formally ratified. Those are the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.