The International Human Rights Clinic at University of Chicago Law School and several other human rights groups will appear before the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Monday, October 27 for two hearings: (1) a hearing seeking justice for Colorado resident and domestic violence survivor Jessica Lenahan, as well as domestic violence policy reforms in the U.S.; and (2) a hearing on the “Human Rights Situation of Migrant and Refugee Children and Families in the United States” that will address the human rights violations experienced by migrant children and families from Central America and Mexico seeking protection in the United States. The IACHR schedule of hearings can be found here. The IACHR is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the Americas.
In 2011, the IACHR decided Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. United States, finding that the U.S. government violated the human rights of Ms. Lenahan and her three daughters. The Commission recommended that the government conduct an investigation into its failure to respond to the 1999 domestic violence incident that resulted in the deaths of Ms. Lenahan's three girls, as well as unresolved questions about the circumstances surrounding their deaths. It also recommended that the government adopt reforms at the federal and state levels to ensure domestic violence protections. An earlier iteration of the case was the subject of the U.S. Supreme Court case Town of Castle Rock, Colorado v. Jessica Gonzales.
The U.S. has made almost no progress in providing justice to Lenahan or implementing systemic reforms since the Commission issued the decision. However, at the local level, 13 municipalities—the most recent of which is Chicago—have passed “Domestic Violence-Human Rights” Resolutions that declare freedom from domestic violence to be a human right. IHR Clinic Acting Director, Professor Caroline Bettinger-Lopez, has been actively involved in the “DV Free” campaign nationwide. The Chicago resolution can be found here and the other 12 resolutions can be found here.
Throughout the past year, a large number of families and unaccompanied children have arrived in the United States, escaping extreme violence in Central America and Mexico. The U.S. government response to date, however, has focused on expanding detention and accelerating deportation rather than recognizing the need many of these individuals have for international protection. The October 27th hearing comes soon after the Commission conducted its own visit to the southern U.S. border to evaluate the United States' compliance with its international human rights obligations. The Commission's preliminary findings identified several troubling human rights concerns, which will be further discussed by the non-governmental organizations involved in the hearing.
This is the first time the U.S. government is expected to publicly address an international body about concerns related to the humanitarian crisis faced by unaccompanied children arriving at the southern border.
Students in the International Human Rights Clinic played a critical role in preparing for both hearings. Clinic students helped to prepare testimony for the Lenahan hearing and drafted a brief to the IACHR regarding the situation of migrant children that will be presented to the Commission on Monday.