As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United States is required to submit periodic reports to the treaty’s supervisory body, the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The United States recently submitted its joint Second and Third Periodic Report. The Report—the United States’ first in eleven years—came in the midst of intense scrutiny over the government’s human rights record. Even in the absence of these controversies, the U.S. Report would have marked an important development in international human rights law, given the special place the United States holds as a world superpower and key human rights advocate. Further adding to the significance of the U.S. Report is the high profile of the ICCPR and the Human Rights Committee. All sides—the Committee, the U.S. government, and the human rights community—took advantage of the opportunity to voice their positions on the ICCPR’s provisions and U.S. human rights practices. For these reasons, the U.S. Report represents an important development in international human rights law, and one that relates to a broad array of topics, including treaty interpretation and enforcement, the status and content of human rights law, and domestic implementation of international law.
This Note provides a descriptive account of the U.S. Report that is situated in the wider body of scholarship on the ICCPR and international human rights treaty obligations; in addition, it offers a normative assessment of the Committee’s reaction to the U.S. Report. I argue that the Committee in several instances pressed the United States too far, and in doing so risked sacrificing its credibility and alienating states parties. I point to the debate over the territorial application of the ICCPR and the United States’ reservation to the treaty’s prohibition on the juvenile death penalty to illustrate my argument.