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Risa E. Kaufman

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Administration: One, Arizona: Zero

Posted: 09/15/10 04:03 PM ET

Only days after the Obama administration released its report analyzing the United States' human rights record in conjunction with the UN's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer came out swinging -- demanding that the reference to Arizona's controversial "papers please" immigration law be removed from the report. Yet, her accusation that inclusion of Arizona's law in the U.S.'s UPR report is "internationalism run amok and unconstitutional" couldn't be farther from the truth, and the administration should be applauded for upholding human rights at the international, federal and state level.

Arizona is the administration's problem, just as is any other state action that comes into direct conflict with human rights. The law, S.B. 1070, treads on the rights to equality and non-discrimination, and thus implicates human rights standards that the United States has pledged to uphold, and that, in our federalist system, states are required to adhere to.

Indeed, contrary to Governor Brewer's assertions, the administration's UPR report appropriately includes reference to the Arizona law. Federal, state and local government share responsibility for human rights implementation, with the federal government retaining the ultimate responsibility. Comprehensive realization of human rights requires cooperation and collaboration between all levels of government, and with civil society.

To advance human rights around the world, we must start by advancing human rights at home; we lead by example by holding ourselves accountable to our own commitments. While Governor Brewer refuses to admit S.B. 1070's flaws, the Obama administration should be applauded for engaging in the UPR process and for recognizing that our nation's record on human rights is less than perfect. The report recognizes that despite success in reforming past inequalities, the country has much work to do.

While commending the administration for its engagement with the UPR process, we should also think deeply about what institutional reforms are necessary to ensure that every level of government -- federal, state and local -- upholds human rights.

In particular, a revitalized Inter-Agency Working Group on Human Rights would ensure a comprehensive and coordinated approach to human rights implementation throughout all of the federal agencies and departments, and an expanded U.S. Civil and Human Rights Commission would empower a quasi-independent body within the United States to monitor and promote robust implementation of human rights. Both of these institutions should coordinate and support state and local agencies charged with monitoring and enforcing civil and human rights laws, to prevent laws, such as S.B. 1070, from running afoul of our human rights commitments.

The UPR process provides a perfect opportunity for the administration to move from rhetoric to action on human rights at home and ensure that we establish the infrastructure necessary to promote and monitor adherence to human rights standards within our own borders.