Human Rights Clinic and Partners Advocate on Food, Housing, Immigration, and Transgender Rights before the United Nations in Geneva

Students traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, with the clinic’s Acting Director and Acting Associate Director for the Fifth Periodic Review of the United States’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Human Rights Clinic and Partners Advocate on Food, Housing, Immigration, and Transgender Rights before the United Nations in Geneva
Human Rights Clinic and partners at Palais Wilson in Geneva.

The Human Rights Clinic, under the supervision of Tamar Ezer, acting director, and Denisse Córdova Montes, acting associate director, worked with over 20 partners from around the country on four submissions to the United Nations Human Rights Committee leading up to the Fifth Periodic Review of the United States’s compliance of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The submissions highlight violations relating to the right to foodhousing and homelessnesstransgender rights, and the mistreatment of Black migrants

Miami Law students and fellows Photini Kamvisseli Suarez, Clayton Oates, Nic Stelter, and Abigail Wettstein engaged in on-the-ground advocacy to secure strong recommendations by the Human Rights Committee to the U.S. government. This included a series of briefings with the Human Rights Committee to help guide their questions of the U.S. government; developing advocacy factsheets on violations related to the right to foodhousing and homelessnesstransgender communities, and immigrants’ rights; individual discussions with Committee Members; and a consultation with the U.S. delegation at the U.S. Mission in Geneva. Additionally, the Human Rights Clinic team met with the staff of seven different U.N. Special Rapporteurs, or independent experts appointed by the U.N., focused on different human rights themes.

“As the last U.S. review before the U.N. Human Rights Committee was over seven years ago, this review provided a unique opportunity to engage with the U.S. government on human rights issues and mobilize international pressure to push back against abusive laws and policies,” said Ezer. “We hope holding the U.S. accountable on an international stage will underscore the need for change if the U.S. stives to be a leader in the protection of rights.”

Right to Food Violations

The clinic underscored how the right to adequate food is an essential component of the right to life and is closely linked with the right to non-discrimination. Along with Karen Spiller of Food Solutions New England and the National Right to Food Community of Practice, the clinic argued that the U.S. food system relies on labor exploitation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities yet excludes them from the benefits produced by this food system, seeing as these groups suffer the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation. 

“This trip gave us an opportunity to publicly address how the U.S. is failing to address the root causes of hunger, including low wages and corporate control of the U.S. food system,” said Kamvisseli Suarez. “Our current food system encourages food dependence and discourages local food systems, while causing widespread hunger and environmental harms.” 

The Criminalization of Homelessness and Mental Health

The clinic further addressed the criminalization of homelessness and mental health in the U.S., along with Siya Hegde of the National Homelessness Law Center and David Peery of the Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity. “Not only are we seeing an alarming rise in laws criminalizing homelessness or activities critical to survival conducted in public, such as sleeping or sitting, but we are also seeing the targeting of those who seek to provide unhoused people with food or other aid,” said Wettstein. “The City of Miami, for instance, cruelly prohibits serving food to groups of unhoused persons without a permit and at non-designated locations with only a few, inconvenient locations designated. Such laws violate the rights to life and to freedom from cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” 

The clinic and partners further highlighted the erosion of due process protections, leading to a rise in involuntary commitment of unhoused persons perceived to have mental health disabilities.

Violations of Transgender Rights

The clinic additionally addressed human rights violations against transgender communities in the U.S., including laws limiting discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools, book bans, denial of gender-affirming care, prohibitions from using the bathroom or participating in school sports corresponding to an individual’s gender identity, and growing animosity and violence against transgender individuals. 

“Since the review was initially supposed to happen pre-COVID, and these attacks against the trans community have really ramped up in the last two years, it was something that wasn’t really on the Committee’s radar,” said Stelter. The clinic thus played a critical role in bringing these concerns to the Committee’s attention. In oral remarks to the Committee, Stelter highlighted the “avalanche of anti-trans bills sweeping state legislatures across the United States. This year alone, we have seen over 500 anti-trans bills introduced, violating the right to freedom of expression, the right to security of person, of privacy, and the right to life.” 

Mistreatment of Black Migrants

Finally, the mistreatment of Black migrants, specifically Haitians, was a topic the clinic and partners brought to the attention of the Human Rights Committee. The advocacy in Geneva builds on prior work of the clinic, including a thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights this past March. 

“This review was another opportunity to uplift the voices of individuals who are typically excluded from U.S. courts,” said Oates. “We argued that despite verbal affirmations from the U.S. government that the Biden Administration has repealed and replaced harmful Trump-era policies, the new policies effectively serve the same function of preventing Black and non-white migrants from entering the U.S. and triggering human rights violations under the ICCPR.”

The clinic team and partners received an encouraging response from the Human Rights Committee, which amplified many of these concerns in questioning the U.S. delegates. “Until we see the day when our country and world is a safer, happier, and more humane place for all, I am comforted knowing that this fight is not any one of ours to bear alone,” said Hedge. “We will stay courageous as a united force of advocates.” 

“The Human Rights Committee review of the U.S. will strengthen ongoing advocacy on food, housing, transgender rights, and immigrants’ rights,” said Córdova Montes. “The Human Rights Clinic is excited to support partners’ advocacy towards the domestic implementation of the recommendations presented by the Committee.” 

The Human Rights Committee will issue its recommendations to the U.S. on November 3.

Read more about Miami Law’s Human Rights Clinic.